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New Pavement System... Supported by Solar Panels?

New Pavement System... Supported by Solar Panels?

One of the ways DOT serves the American public is by working with small businesses to find new ways to improve our nation’s roadways. Our Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program encourages small businesses to explore potential solutions to transportation challenges.

In 2009, we solicited research on a topic sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA): to develop a new pavement that could generate power and transfer it to the power grid. The SBIR Phase I submission had to meet the following requirements:

  • Use recycled material;
  • Withstand traffic loads; and
  • Be durable enough to avoid costly replacement cycles.

In response to this solicitation, Solar Roadways, Inc., began proof-of-concept work. Their proposal: self-sustaining pavement, made from hexagon-shaped solar panels. If successful, this pavement could potentially eliminate the current practice of replacing asphalt, and ultimately transform the nation’s roadways into an intelligent pavement system.

Solar roadway panels
Solar roadway panels feature LED lights which can "paint" the road lines from beneath, lighting up the road for safer night time driving.

Since Solar Roadways' proof-of-concept results were promising, we awarded a Phase II contract in 2011 to develop and test a prototype for a pavement made of solar panels.

After testing multiple glass samples in various shapes for traction, load, impact resistance, and transmissivity, Solar Roadways discovered that the optimal solar panel could be made from low-iron glass with a transparent surface. The resulting system surpasses the limitations of today’s asphalt pavement product by providing four-color LED lighting and heating features that melt snow from the roadway.

Everyone was encouraged by the results of the initial prototype pavement testing, and we recently awarded Solar Roadways a follow-on Phase IIB contract to continue developing and testing this exciting innovation. One of the shortcomings Solar Roadways has yet to resolve is the manufacturing process for the composite solar panels; each of the solar cells is currently manufactured by hand, and they are very costly to produce.

Rendering of Sandpoint, Idaho, with solar roadway pavement
Artist's rendition of downtown Sandpoint, Idaho with solar roadway panels installed. Graphic design by Sam Cornett.

In addition to our SBIR funding, Solar Roadways has also raised $2.2 million through its own crowdfunding efforts. They used the funding contributed by the public to hire employees for the company while SBIR funds are used to conduct further testing and make product and process refinements specified in the Phase IIB contract.

With the increasingly important worldwide goal for sustainable pavement solutions, DOT has received a lot of positive feedback about this project, and enthusiasm for Solar Roadways' work is pretty high. Because this idea offers the ability to melt snow on the roadway or keep water from freezing, even if the cost for comprehensive highway implementations is too high, this innovation could still be useful in smaller areas such as parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, and bike lanes.

Volpe administers SBIR for DOT, and helps DOT’s Operating Administrations identify topics and solutions to some of our nation’s transportation challenges. See the latest SBIR Phase I Solicitation, which closes on December 16, to learn about the current ideas being sought.

Through SBIR, Volpe has awarded over $78 million in small business funding over the last 10 years on behalf of DOT’s eight participating Operating Administrations.

Michael Trentacoste is FHWA Associate Administrator, Office of Research, Development, and Technology.
Robert C. Johns, is Director of  Volpe, the National Transportation Systems Center.

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Roads are no different than our circulatory system. The more our roads are able to do the better our circulatory system. Right now our roads do very little. Our roads could create the network of our dreams for data and energy and transportation and water. Multiple redundant routes able to intelligently interact with the environment. Smart vehicles and smart circulatory systems make sense. ROI for energy, data, environment, water, safety makes total sense moving this direction. Also great way to stop crime. Recyclable materials which don't pollute our lands. Mass manufacturing process with a cycle of ongoing improvements for replaced panels is guaranteed to continue to reduce the price and increase the returns. Distribution and interactivity will have incredible ROI. Roads which can detect ground collapse and traffic and intelligently prevent incidents. Excellent project to support.

Can't wait to see this in action on a larger scale and see the numbers coming back in. Will they generate as much power as predicted, last the toll of traffic, how about vandalism, will they survive a flood, will discoloration from traffic be a problem? But great initiative. It's easy to be critical. But any real game changer didn't come with the prototype but from implementing the prototype in real life and upgrading it from the lessons learned.

Do you guys have a single civil engineer on your staff and/or are you guys just idiots? Solar panels generating and storing enough energy that is then used on a heating element to melt snow. Efficiency: negligible. During the winter. Black top is incredibly efficient at taking in heat when compared to solar panels and it doesn't melt snow that lands on it in the winter. Oh, and LED's aren't visible during the day. Pathetic. I could make an artist rendition of people using teleporters. Doesn't mean it's real.

I saw the video "Solar Freakin Roadaways" about a year ago...thought it was a fabulous idea. So glad to see that more testing is being done. Innovation and new ideas will keep America strong and growing.

This would make a big difference in the world we live in I think every one should be on board with this !! Need a job well here one !! Thank you for investors and inventors of this wonderful idea and product !! God bless !!

Scott Brusaw after almost ten years has yet to show how much power his "genius" idea generates. Ten years on and no DATA what so ever. Did you ever ask why that is? And you people give him 1.5 million dollars for a idea that is complete nonsense. Are you morons too? You should be ashamed for wasting taxpayer money like that.

What an utter joke. Whomever was stupid enough to fall for this snake oil nonsense needs to be fired immediately. They both have absolutely no idea what they are talking about and are gullible to the extreme.

I'm thrilled to see Scott and Julie get recognition and encouragement from the Dept. of Transportation. Solar Roadways is an exciting project with unlimited potential to efficiently re-pave, improve, and maintain the nation's highways; even more, the clean technology offers energy efficiencies previously unheard of. There are so many possibilities inherent in the concept to improve not just our highways but our very way of life.

Literally 10 minutes of independent research will make it abundantly clear that this is vaporware. Please do your homework DOT.

"Everyone was encouraged by the results of the initial prototype pavement testing" Where can I find these results? "One of the shortcomings Solar Roadways has yet to resolve is the manufacturing process" Are you kidding me? How about the material becoming opaque, or the daily cleaning costs, or replacing the LEDs after they burn out every 5 years, or glass being slippery when wet, or the cost of resurfacing tempered glass, or the cost of installing, or the fact that flat panels generate far less than angled, or the pollution from creating that much tempered glass, or the fact that they're covered by cars in the day time. You cannot find one independent engineer who thinks this is a good idea. Stop giving these scammers money.

Fabulous! Congrats solar roadways. Love you guys.

Scott Brusaw has yet to show a single vehicle (truck ect) driving on his road. The Us Government has yet to ask a single credible scientist as to why you don't drive on glass and why you don't drive on solar panels. This is like a bad Jr high school project that has wasted 1.5 million taxpayer dollars on something that can be proven to be un viable with a ten dollar coffee pot and a piece of broken asphalt. THIS IS EMBARRASSING, you people should be ashamed of yourselves for having supported clowns like Scott Brusaw. SHAME!!!

I've been following Solar Roadways for several years and am so pleased to see my tax dollars spent on something that is functional, flexible, sustainable, and supports small businesses. Thank you!

This is a great idea and that is why I donated. My question would be why not driveways of home and business. If I could I would tomorrow put this great product as my driveway.

If Solar Roadways really can achieve, it will bring so many benefit to human! Now the key is reduce the cost!

How about Solar Panels on a roof covering a grade-separated single lane high speed roadway for self-driving electric cars powered and controlled by the roadway? It is time to use technology to replace our existing surface transportation modes. A three tiered system using self-driving electric cars, could eliminate traffic congestion by lifting traffic up above street level. The street level traffic feeds a second layer nonstop area grid that in turn feeds a third level high-speed city to city nationwide network. The mass transit second and third layers control the vehicle and also power the electric cars as they travel. A new mass transit business model with usage fees as low as 45 cents per mile per vehicle can pay for the infrastructure and provide significant investment returns and new tax revenue.
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