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Futuristic glass roads could be the solution to our energy woes

Every now and then a new transportation idea surfaces that deserves to be looked into at depth. How about a glass road surface?

A group of engineers in Sagle, Idaho, are working a glass road surface that generates solar power. The idea is to reduce the reliance on petroleum products while generating renewable energy.

Conventional road surfacing material is mostly made from petroleum products. Asphalt and tar are mostly composed from petroleum products and the latest versions have rubber content from recycled tires. Some road surfacing also incorporates recycled glass. With petroleum being a non-renewable resource and becoming increasingly more expensive, an alternative to paving our road surfaces sounds like a great idea. But is glass the answer?

Scott Brusaw, the inventor and co-founder of Solar Roadways, believes it is.

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His bright idea is to take the existing and new road surfaces of all highways and streets in the U.S. and pave them with solar panels. This would mean an end to using conventional asphalt and instead paving all roads with solar panels. His calculations have the 25,000 sq. miles (64,750 sq. km) of paved surface in the U.S. generating three times the amount of energy required for all of the U.S. even at only a 15 per cent efficiency rate.

Brusaw also sees the proposed system of roads as an energy grid delivering power and services directly to each household or business through the solar grid.

Each of these solar arrays in the road surface would also contain LED lighting for lane lines and adaptable messages eliminating the need for painted lines that tend to wear off and “cat’s eyes” that become dislodged with snow plowing.

This is a unique solution but it still needs development, particularly when it comes to developing the actual road surface material. The glass surface needs to be strong enough to take the abuse of trucks and vehicles and it also needs to provide a level of grip that we now enjoy from asphalt.

The aggregate in asphalt also provides a coarse surface that allows water to drain into. The smooth surface that we associate with glass would not allow this and water would pool on it. The glass surface would need a rough texture to enhance tire grip yet allow for sunlight penetration for the embedded solar arrays while not distorting the LED lights.

Traffic sensors can easily be incorporated into this new surface much like what is in use now to trigger traffic signals and signs. The LED lighting could aid in traffic routing by showing motorists which lanes or roads are flowing the most efficient or which lanes are blocked up ahead. I could see this leading to “intelligent roadways.”

This new idea could also see an end to potholes and rutting since the glass surface will likely not crack and flex as asphalt does.

This is an interesting solution and one we could see in the foreseeable future. What is needed are some bright engineers to research the glass technology to make the surface strong, durable and provide a level of friction like that of asphalt.

  • Futuristic glass roads could be the solution to our energy woes

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