Clean Power

Published on August 18th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

48

New Technology Could Make Roads a Solar Energy Source

August 18th, 2008 by  

road

The most efficient form of renewable energy may be right underneath us. Researchers at Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts announced today that they have discovered a method to use road surfaces for solar collection.

The key is using the plentiful heat absorbed by asphalt pavement. By experimenting with different asphalt compositions, the team discovered that heat absorption in pavement can be significantly increased with the addition of highly conductive aggregates such as quartzite. Heat exchangers could be placed a few centimeters under the pavement to collect and use solar energy.

Hot water coming from an asphalt-powered system could be used for industrial processes or to heat buildings.

According to WPI, retrofitting roads and parking lots could turn them into massive solar farms, potentially eliminating the need independently constructed solar farms. This would be a huge boon for the solar energy industry, which currently uses huge swaths of land for its projects. The WPI research might also make solar viable in places where it might not be otherwise, as asphalt absorbs more heat than many other surfaces.

Pretty soon, you might just appreciate your local highway a little more.

Posts Related to Solar Energy:


Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store!
 
Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

Tags: , ,


About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



  • Lauren@GreenGlobalTravel

    This would be the ultimate way to take a solar powered car on a long trip. Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  • Pingback: Solar Highways Turn Public Liabilities into Assets | CleanTechnica()

  • Pingback: Solar Panels Bike Lanes/Roads Coming to Holland – CleanTechnica: Cleantech innovation news and views()

  • You can check out a video all about Solar Roadways here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3PeSm6_hTE

    The YERT team met Scott Brusaw, the founder, at his home in Idaho and made this video. Pretty interesting– he gets into detail about some of the nuanced pros and cons about the project. Pretty level-headed guy…

  • You can check out a video all about Solar Roadways here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3PeSm6_hTE

    The YERT team met Scott Brusaw, the founder, at his home in Idaho and made this video. Pretty interesting– he gets into detail about some of the nuanced pros and cons about the project. Pretty level-headed guy…

  • Sandeep AR

    Very very intresting!!!!

    I need more informations…

  • Sandeep AR

    Very very intresting!!!!

    I need more informations…

  • Nik

    What will happen when rainwater seeps thru the asphalt pavement ?

  • Nik

    What will happen when rainwater seeps thru the asphalt pavement ?

  • becky

    This sounds promising although I have been wondering about the opposite – keep urban hotspots cool by using less heat absorbing asphault (similar to white roofs). If the heat can actually be used though, this is a good idea. How can you be sure that the heat collectors will always work? Is this a passive thing? You wouldn’t want them to malfunction and end up with super hot asphault – imagine the waste of energy during traffic jams (everyone blasting their ac’s and the extra heat added to the environment), or what would happen if your car broke down on the freeway and you were surrounded by blazing hot asphault. Another question – what does the color black do to light to turn it into heat? This is a dumb question, I realize…absorbs something which is energy…the black color soaks up more that would otherwise reflect off and go back out to the atmosphere? My question is, does a black pavement really add to the overall heat of the system, or just concentrate it in one place? Is the whole earth hotter or is is just redistributed? (hotter urban areas=cooler other places, or what??

  • becky

    This sounds promising although I have been wondering about the opposite – keep urban hotspots cool by using less heat absorbing asphault (similar to white roofs). If the heat can actually be used though, this is a good idea. How can you be sure that the heat collectors will always work? Is this a passive thing? You wouldn’t want them to malfunction and end up with super hot asphault – imagine the waste of energy during traffic jams (everyone blasting their ac’s and the extra heat added to the environment), or what would happen if your car broke down on the freeway and you were surrounded by blazing hot asphault. Another question – what does the color black do to light to turn it into heat? This is a dumb question, I realize…absorbs something which is energy…the black color soaks up more that would otherwise reflect off and go back out to the atmosphere? My question is, does a black pavement really add to the overall heat of the system, or just concentrate it in one place? Is the whole earth hotter or is is just redistributed? (hotter urban areas=cooler other places, or what??

  • This could turn every blacktop road in the country into solar thermal energy distribution infrastructure. Jobs jobs jobs enabling it all too. Hopefully no imported cheap labor from south of the border will be demanded by US construction contractors to get the projects accomplished.

  • This could turn every blacktop road in the country into solar thermal energy distribution infrastructure. Jobs jobs jobs enabling it all too. Hopefully no imported cheap labor from south of the border will be demanded by US construction contractors to get the projects accomplished.

  • Sounds like a great idea! My pop, an old rancher, just covered a labarinth of zig zagging PVC water pipes he built, running from his electric water heater and pump to his swimming pool, with black roofing material using a few two by fours to hold the thick heavy duty asphalt sheets down. The automatic thermostate during the mornings, early evenings, and during the fall and spring months, now turns on the grid electric heater about 20% less than without the black thermal heating from direct So. Cal hot sunlight.

    Ever try to walk across an asphalt road or sidewalk barefoot? Only Zen masters or masochists need try.

    Fantastic – Global Warming problem of heat expanding roads yield clean heat energy producing.

  • Sounds like a great idea! My pop, an old rancher, just covered a labarinth of zig zagging PVC water pipes he built, running from his electric water heater and pump to his swimming pool, with black roofing material using a few two by fours to hold the thick heavy duty asphalt sheets down. The automatic thermostate during the mornings, early evenings, and during the fall and spring months, now turns on the grid electric heater about 20% less than without the black thermal heating from direct So. Cal hot sunlight.

    Ever try to walk across an asphalt road or sidewalk barefoot? Only Zen masters or masochists need try.

    Fantastic – Global Warming problem of heat expanding roads yield clean heat energy producing.

  • Philo Betto

    “Pretty soon, you might just appreciate your local highway a little more.”

    No, no I wont.

  • Philo Betto

    “Pretty soon, you might just appreciate your local highway a little more.”

    No, no I wont.

  • It — or something more sophisticated, actually — is already working in the Netherlands: http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/1428/

  • It — or something more sophisticated, actually — is already working in the Netherlands: http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/1428/

  • richard

    great idea, there are lots of roads and they do get HOT!! It wouldn t be necessary to rip up the whole road, cutting grooves would probably suffice.

  • richard

    great idea, there are lots of roads and they do get HOT!! It wouldn t be necessary to rip up the whole road, cutting grooves would probably suffice.

  • Justin

    Kurt,

    It’s called research. It’s not smoke and mirrors.

  • Justin

    Kurt,

    It’s called research. It’s not smoke and mirrors.

  • Mike

    Hey,

    Traffic jams, and all lights are out… We’d better start forgetting about that 5PM Air Conditioned.

  • Mike

    Hey,

    Traffic jams, and all lights are out… We’d better start forgetting about that 5PM Air Conditioned.

  • That could be a revolution in the energy world! I only hope we can actually pull this off financially. the other problem is that the power companies and not going to let go that easily. just like the gas companies are fighting the hydro & electric cars!

  • That could be a revolution in the energy world! I only hope we can actually pull this off financially. the other problem is that the power companies and not going to let go that easily. just like the gas companies are fighting the hydro & electric cars!

  • jake

    Its a great Idea, but he cost to tear up and repave all thos roads would be tremendous.

  • jake

    Its a great Idea, but he cost to tear up and repave all thos roads would be tremendous.

  • Hank

    I think it’s a great idea for the future. But I also think it would be a greater idea to collect the solar heat from concrete buildings in the big cities.

    PLUS every street with high builings in a big city creates HUGE GUSTS OF WIND at street level where this energy could be collected via wind collecting devices that would be a lot more useful than ugly “gargoyles”.

  • Hank

    I think it’s a great idea for the future. But I also think it would be a greater idea to collect the solar heat from concrete buildings in the big cities.

    PLUS every street with high builings in a big city creates HUGE GUSTS OF WIND at street level where this energy could be collected via wind collecting devices that would be a lot more useful than ugly “gargoyles”.

    • brian

      They have solar paint now, could they just paint the buildings with that and reapply as needed?

      • Bob_Wallace

        Solar paint is not that developed. They have a liquid that can be painted onto a surface, but the way one would connect to the grid is not worked out.

  • chandru

    very good

  • chandru

    very good

  • Kurt

    This is more smoke and mirrors. Do one parking lot without government subsides. Most asphalt roads need resurfacing every few years.

    And fix that guys pothole in front of his house 1st.

  • Kurt

    This is more smoke and mirrors. Do one parking lot without government subsides. Most asphalt roads need resurfacing every few years.

    And fix that guys pothole in front of his house 1st.

  • Great idea. Things like that will make a HUGE difference if we can pull them off.

  • Great idea. Things like that will make a HUGE difference if we can pull them off.

  • sir jorge

    i need to do more thinking, that’s for sure.

  • Rick

    Great idea; however, if they can’t fix the pothole that’s been in front of my house for two years, they’re probably not going to tackle this project anytime soon.

  • Rick

    Great idea; however, if they can’t fix the pothole that’s been in front of my house for two years, they’re probably not going to tackle this project anytime soon.

  • Sam

    I like the fact that absorbing the heat will help cool down the asphalt. That would help in states like Georgia where tires peel off tractor trailers rolling over super hot highways.

  • Sam

    I like the fact that absorbing the heat will help cool down the asphalt. That would help in states like Georgia where tires peel off tractor trailers rolling over super hot highways.

  • Johnny

    Sounds like a good idea — but how would such a system hold up under normal road wear conditions? Could such a system be reliable over the long haul without huge maintainance costs?

  • Johnny

    Sounds like a good idea — but how would such a system hold up under normal road wear conditions? Could such a system be reliable over the long haul without huge maintainance costs?

  • Jon Paul

    Great for summertime… what happens to the grid during winter?

  • Jon Paul

    Great for summertime… what happens to the grid during winter?

Back to Top ↑