Solar Powered Roads

Global interest in electric vehicles has been on the rise as the number of electric vehicles on the roads are continuing to increase. Canada has seen a rise in EV sales, jumping from 5,235 in 2014 to 6,933 in 2015 1. This 32% increase is a tangible indication of the rising interest and adoption of this modern alternative to traditional vehicles, but it does not come without its anxieties 2. Most EV owners suffer from “range anxiety” a term coined to describe a driver’s worry that they will run out of charge while on the road.

Luckily, many countries and startups have taken note and are investing time and energy to develop charging roads. Two years ago, we wrote a piece about Solar Roadways – a refreshing take on curbing range anxieties by harnessing the sun’s energy to charge EVs on the road. Since then, there have been various emerging innovations and technologies all hoping to fulfill the same goal through different means. That is, creating electrified roads that allow dynamic charging while on the go.

 
Solar_Roadways_Rendering

Image courtesy of mnn.com

 

Take a look below at these three companies who have put their own unique spin on how to harness solar energy to power our EVs!

 

Magnetic induction technologies

 
In Gumi, South Korea, “Shaped Magnetic Field In Resonance”, a dynamic charging system has already been put to the test 3. This system contains electric cables that are buried underneath the asphalt of special charging lanes. The cables generate electromagnetic fields, which are then picked up by a coil, converting it into electric power to be used by the car.

The mobile charging benefits aside, these power strips only occupy 5-15 percent of the road 4. Thus, only small portions of the roadways will feel any sort of disruption during the installation process. For now, the wireless charging system is currently being implemented to trial areas not accessible by the public. The major focus of this system has been done within the infrastructure of public transportation, with side initiatives to introduce the concept to individual vehicles.

 
South_Korea_solar_road

Image courtesy of mnn.com

 

England is also investing its resources to implement the system within 18 months. If successful, on-road tests will begin by Highways England, a governmental agency overseeing highway building and improvement in England.

While England and South Korea are still in the early stages of implementing this system, it is very encouraging to see governments responding to the efforts of citizens in living more sustainably 5.

 

Modular tempered glass road system

 
On the other side of the ocean, the U.S. is experimenting with a different take on the technology. An Idaho startup, Solar Roadways, is covering a section of Route 66 in Missouri with a new take on solar panels 6. The modular system consists of specially engineered solar panels that can not only be driven and walked upon, but can also create signage and lines through embedded LED lights. They also contain heating elements to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice.

 
Solar_Roadway_panels

Image courtesy of mnn.com
… Our goal is to modernize the infrastructure with modular, intelligent panels, while producing clean renewable energy for homes and businesses. We’ll be able to charge electric vehicles first on our solar parking lots and when we have enough highway infrastructure, while driving.Solar Roadways

Solar Roadways have designed the panels as modular systems, so that road repairs or maintenance can be performed without disrupting traffic. In addition to that, they are utilizing microprocessors to establish a communication platform between the solar panels and the cars driving on the road. If successful, these roads will really be able to do it all.

 

Polycrystalline silicon strips

 
France is working on its own unique approach in implementing solarized roads. Wattways, specialized solar panels developed by Colas, comprise of 7mm thick strips that are glued to the road surface. The strips are made of polycrystalline silicon which generate electricity from the sunlight and transfer it to EVs 7. Colas claims them to be skid resistant and have the ability to withstand the weight of a 6 axle truck.

 
Wattway-solar-panels

Image courtesy of gas2.org

 

Scheduled to be installed on roads last spring, the panels are currently being rigorously tested. France’s minister of ecology and energy, Ségolène Royal, intends to raise taxes on fossil fuels in order to fund the installations of 600 miles of these Wattway panels over the next 5 years 8.

Now that is dedication to a sustainable future.

 

Obstacles = opportunities?

 
Although, there is a lot of interest in solarized roads, there is a rising concern of their impracticality and inability to withstand weather conditions. A major issue is the pooling and freezing of water between the panels in the winter.

However, scientists from the Ocean University of China and Yunnan Normal University in China, have created all weather solar cells that have the ability to withstand every weather condition possible 9. The technology leverages the unique properties of graphene to generate electricity from raindrops. This denounces any claim that solarized roads are impractical.

 
all-weather-solar-cells

Image courtesy of newatlas.com

 

How it works

 
The system uses an aqueous form of graphene in the solar cell. When the rain falls on the cells, raindrops break down into positive and negative ions. The salt-related positive ions accumulate on top of the graphene surface forming a positive layer. When this layer interacts with the negative electrons in the graphene, it creates a dual-layer system that acts like a pseudocapacitor. Voltage and current are successfully produced by the difference in potential between the two layers, thus producing energy and powering devices.

Could this be the answer to the proposed concerns and be implemented in the panels developed for road use? It’s just as crazy an idea as the ones proposed.

 

The road ahead

 
These technologies and ideas might sound implausible, but they are not. Though they can only be fully implemented into our infrastructure and system years from now, they are an example of the heights of human innovation when people work to fully manifest sustainability.

If these innovations prove successful, they will revolutionize and impact the renewable energy world and how we access and utilize the energy resources available to us. Skeptical or not, there is no denying the excitement of the future.

 


1. fleetcarma.com, 2. fleetcarma.com, 3. bbc.com, 4. bbc.com, 5. smithsonianmag.com, 6. cleantechnica.com, 7. gas2.com, 8. gas2.com, 9. digitaltrends.com