Streets for Solar

Steam rises from the never-ending stretch of road ahead. What looks like water rolling over the street, is just heat escaping. Walking on the blacktop barefoot would leave anyone but a fire-walker grunting in pain.

Our planet is covered with a web of streets and this cement absorbs and stores an abundance of the sun’s energy. Researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), are looking into ways of using this heat as yet another renewable energy source. They have already developed solar collectors that would transfer the energy into electricity.

The ball started rolling with the president of Novotech Inc., Michael Hulen, who funded the research project meant to prove the efficiency of Novotech’s patented heat absorbing design. Based in Acton, Massachusetts, Novotech is one of the biggest suppliers of infrared optical and semiconductor materials.

WPI’s research was presented at the Annual Symposium of the International Society for Asphalt Pavements August 18-20, in Zurich, but like most things in life, the presentations are not accessible for free so I have no information about WPI’s results as of yet. (In addition to the topic of ‘roads for energy production’, other areas of interest such as noise reduction, recycling, drainage and environmentally friendly maintinence on pavements were also discussed at the event.)

The idea of using already existing streets as solar panels is a promising one; Roads are reworked every few years and the technology can be incorporated when repaving is necessary. Not only that, but the unfortunate truth is that roads, parking lots and sidewalks are more common than anything else in many areas. With Novotech’s design, at least these concrete landmasses can be retrofitted as solar power generators.

The heat collectors would be located a few centimeters underneath the pavement, not changing the outward appearance. Cars will roll along on the roads, as usual, but now power will be generated right underneath the tires.

For more information, check out an in depth article at Science Daily.

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