solar roadwaysWhat if your electric car could be recharged by the road as you're driving?

From a remote workshop in northern Idaho 100 miles from the Canadian border, Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer and Marine Corps sergeant, is building a system to do just that. And he's gotten the attention of some influential folks, including at the Department of Transportation, which last year awarded Brusaw a $100,000 contract to build a prototype of a new kind of road paving.

"The states are all broke," Brusaw said in a recent interview. "So the DOT was looking for some kind of material that would pay for itself."

Brusaw says that if all the highways in the U.S. were covered in solar panels with just 15% efficiency, enough electricity would be produced to power the entire country three times over.

On Thursday, GE (GE) announced that Solar Roadways was the top community vote-getter in the company's $200 million Ecomagination challenge. Although the winners won't be formally announced until next month, Solar Roadways received the most votes among the community and was awarded a $50,000 prize.

"Throughout the 10-week Challenge, members of the general public have been able to review and comment on entries and vote in support of the idea they believe will have the most impact on the smart grid of the future," said a GE spokesperson. "Solar Roadways has been announced as the idea that received the most votes."

Lifelong Dream

As a child, Brusaw was captivated as he played with electric toy cars that run along winding tracks. But it wasn't until decades later when he was standing in his garden with his wife, Julie, that the inspiration for Solar Roadways hit.

"We were talking about global warming, and Julie said to me, 'Can't you make your electric road out of solar panels?'" Brusaw recalled. A vision was born. The idea is to embed solar panels beneath a glass surface that is laid on top of asphalt.

As the electric car passes over the road, it receives a charge from the road itself. One method for the power transfer involves induction, in which a magnet under the car would draw power as it travels over the road. Additionally, Brusaw's prototype involves embedding LED lights into the road for navigation or safety signals.

Needless to say, the engineering challenges are non-trivial. For one thing, the glass surface must be strong enough to withstand the weight of an 18-wheeler -- or a vandal's sledgehammer. For another, the glass must be sealed to prevent moisture from seeping into the solar panel.

Today Parking Lots, Tomorrow the World

Brusaw is confident those challenges can be overcome -- his goal is to build a solar panel that can withstand abuse similar to what "black boxes" in aircraft must put up with. The Federal Highway Administration was so impressed by the prototype that it asked Brusaw to apply for a $750,000 grant to continue his work.

"The FHA wants us to gear the technology toward parking lots first," Brusaw said. The goal is to retrofit the parking lots of big box stores and fast-food restaurant chains so that cars can be charged while their owners shop or grab a Big Mac.

"I challenge you to find 100 miles of interstate in this country without a McDonald's," Brusaw said. In other words, in his vision, one could theoretically drive an electric car from New York to Florida, charging it up the entire way just by going to McDonald's drive-through restaurants.

"We could start drawing a new crowd -- the green crowd -- to McDonald's," Brusaw said.

Congratulations to Scott and Julie Brusaw for a vision that has captured the imagination of thousands of people, including this reporter!


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48 Comments

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Gina

Reminds me of that video game F-Zero. It might work in light traffic areas that have general temps all year round but here in the Detroit area they will be tore up in no time. Our roads are horrible 90% of the time and if there's any copper or metals worth anything in there you better believe some idiot is going to try to rip it out of the ground!

October 08 2010 at 9:28 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
michaelgesq

The issue of cars generating electricity is something worth studying. Think of all those parking lot full of cars sitting there for 9-10 hours a day. If cars could be configured with panel materials like they have for house construction (the roll out kind) and connected to the grid, our cars could be generating electricity while we work. Not sure about the roadway stuff, but the sheer volume of cars that sit idle during the day invites further study.

October 08 2010 at 9:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
face777

What about winter?Snow plows ice covered,snow.May work in the south.

October 08 2010 at 9:00 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to face777's comment
dmpolis

Why not think more positively. what if the same pannels would generate enough energy to melt the snow? No plows needed. Granted in Alaska this may not work. But if all or most of the counrty could have this, particularly in southern or western states it could lower our dependance on foreign oil.Where I live in NY it could be a possibility.

October 08 2010 at 9:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BUFFALO

Not coming to a road near you soon.Who do they think there kidding? Not today not tomorrow not ever can we move on to the next idea it may have some merit.

October 08 2010 at 8:56 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
doriminx

A few quick questions: 1. How will glass hold up to being plowed in snow areas? 2. How do vehicles remain on snow and ice covered roads? How do vehicles stay on rain covered roads? 3. How does the glass surface respond to changes in the road bed due to climate conditions (heat buckling, ground frost caused movement)? The article is much too optimistic and, as usual in today's news coverage, short on critical examination.And before I'm branded as a naysayer, I've worked in the engineering field for over two decades and you always examine all aspects of a project before you have the final answer. One more point: the electric cars Scott played with as a child were probably slot cars - there were two metal strips on each side of a slot in a plastic track, the metal strips carried current which the car picked up wirh metal contacts and the car had a pin underneath which rode in the slot.

October 08 2010 at 8:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wildlife52

What a bunch of nonsense, pouring grant money into a hole....Think of the voltage loss over all these miles of wires running at very low current and voltage loads. Think of the effects of grime, haze, oil and grease on ho well a panel works. Engineers cant even make a flexible blacktop road that can withstand the ravages of a northern winter and now they want to put rigid glass panels with wires under it! This is almost as good as Tesla and broadcasting power thru the air! ROFL

October 08 2010 at 8:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wildlife52's comment
Bill

Not to mention the snow and the snow plows tearing them up. You're right this is another waste. I think they should do a study on how solar panel reflection of the sun's rays are warming the atmosphere causing global warming.

October 08 2010 at 8:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dvdsn61

Glass roads? has anybody looked into the environmental ramifications of making all that glass?

October 08 2010 at 7:05 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dvdsn61's comment
dvdsn61

Not to mention the environmental ramifications of producing all those batteries.

October 08 2010 at 7:21 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Charles

The story title seems a little silly!! Soon???

October 08 2010 at 7:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
LongBeard40

LOL sounds like bumper cars at the fair ? LOL

October 08 2010 at 6:32 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to LongBeard40's comment
Bryan

LONGBEARD...SOUND LIKE IT'LL BE A HELL OF A LOT CHEAPER TO JUST PAY 2.60 A GALLON ... AND LEAVE THIS ECO-DREAM IN THE DUST

October 08 2010 at 6:50 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ruthsgardens

The problem with americas roads is not rocket science.It is a failure to look at history.Almost every american road is 4 inches thick.Resurfacing of these roads strips 2 inches and then reapplies it.Only asphalt.Most roads in america are 2 inches of concrete then layered with 2 inches of asphalt.Any of you ever layer ground with 2 inches of concrete for decks,driveways etc?What happens?It absorbs moisture and cracks.America fails to learn from Adolph Hitler.When he had the autobahn built.It was 12 inches thick and was mixed with slag ash.Slag ash was the byproduct of making iron.It was a silica byproduct that had a varying percentage of insulation.In other words it sealed water below and above it.But it was 12 inches thick.The majority of the autobahn to this day which extends the length of germany is still crack free.Though some areas have had to be repaired.That was 68 years ago.The modern technology of granulated slag has just been permitted in america as of 1991.This slag is crystallized creating a strong silica fiber.When mixed with Portland cement(which is our countries largest provider) creates a concrete that water cannot penetrate and expand making cracks.It is the insulative properties of the crystallized silica or glass fiber that prevents water absorbtion and expansion which creates potholes.It is also being used to create drywall insulation and unbreakable bottles for winery usages.We have had the technology for better roads for 68 years but never used it.Thicker is better or you spend billions every year fixing potholes which lasts a couple months?And also with non-corrosive rock salt costing 200 dollars a ton,cities won't pay for it.To not fix roads with the older technology is the same as not drilling for oil while waiting for new green technology to be invented.Pretty stupid huh?

October 08 2010 at 3:39 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ruthsgardens's comment
wildlife52

Way off.....Hot mix asphalt pavaments typically have at least 4" as a base and then 2 or more as wearing course. Concrete is rarely used any place that is subject to frost. Rememeber all those bumpy expansion joints on I-95...concrete and frost =bad idea. Concrete pavaments are at least 6" thick and laid on an engineered base that includes high tech composite drainage and other systems. You do not have any idea what you are talking about!

October 08 2010 at 8:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply