The Solar Highway
“Make no little plans”, said Daniel Burnham, the mastermind of the 1893 world’s fair in Chicago. American designers have a penchant for big ideas. One such thinker, Scott Brusaw, is an engineer in the same vein.
The big idea he is helping to launch is the Solar Highway, and the name alone will either get your blood pumping in excitement, or make you shake your head in skepticism at the folly of another dreamer.
First, the big picture. As the world’s oil runs out, our bitumen-based roads will become pricier to build and maintain. At the same time, roads cover a significant portion of a country’s space, as we wrote recently. Why not, the engineer thought, kill multiple birds with one stone?
Over the course of years, the idea turned into the solar highway. Imagine a road composed of endless hexagonal glass tiles. These units, about 40 cm across, provide a safe driving surface. They also contain solar panels – around 60% of the area of each cell, so far.
Add telecommunications and some smart computing, and you get a highway system that replaces overhead cabling (a problem in the US), generates energy, and which can even be used to convey information to drivers, such as temperature conditions up ahead.
The glass is tempered, and very high-strength: it has to resist a truck’s weight, multiple vehicles braking, and so on. It’s also treated to resist salt, magnesium chloride, and other minerals commonly used for cleaning and de-icing.
Sound like a fantasy? The company has already received thousands of dollars in start-up financing. The engineers calculate that replacing the US highway system with the solar highway would result in a drivable surface area that could provide three times the country’s power requirements.
Fantasy may have to make way for reality.