Driving On Electric Glass: Solar Highway Awarded Prototype Funding

Asphalt is ugly and flaky, and requires constant supervision. Snow and road repair can slow down traffic worse than an ugly accident, and the resources that go into building maintaining high-use highways are intimidating to consider.

But there may be another way. A radical intelligent highway design utilizing solar panels, LED lighting, and heating elements has been awarded funding by the Department of Transportation to the tune of $100,000. Will the Solar Highway soon replace asphalt, and how will we all adapt to driving on glass?

The Department of Transportation awarded the $100,000 to Solar Roadways. This money is to build a 12′ x 12′ protoype road section, the average width of a highway lane. Solar Roadways creator Scott Brushaw proposes that his prototype will be able to capture and produce energy from the sun. This energy would then be used to light the roadways, “paint” lines, and flash warnings to motorists about upcoming hazards like an accident or daring animal, as well as providing power to America’s home and businesses.

But that’s not all. They also propose that, if every inch of America’s 25,000 miles of roadway were replaced with their idea-turned-fact, America would make three times as much energy as it used back in 2006. One 4-lane wide stretch of Solar Highway would theoretically make enough energy to power 500 homes. There would be no need for power plants, transformers, power lines, etc. The energy would flow where it was needed, straight from street to home. Furthermore, heating elements would keep the roadways clear of snow and ice, eliminating the need for plowing services and pothole fixes.

The prototypes will be made in three levels. The bottom layer contains the electronics and data needed to make the system work. On top of that are the solar cells LEDs, and sensors that detect any road hazards ahead. The top level is going to be made from something clear, likely bulletproof glass. But wait a second, how are you going to make a smooth clear surface that has the same traction as asphalt, and can put up with constant heavy loads from trucks and traffic?

Another property that concerns me is that complicated roadway will have a supposed lifetime of 21 years, three times more than asphalt. Technology moves fast, but this sounds a little too good to be true. Did I mention it is supposed to cost just $48 per-square foot as well?

Take a look at the Numbers section of their website. At the very least, they make a good argument for their prototype, and I wish them best of luck. Just don’t turn my streets into hockey rinks.

Source: Solar Roadways

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.