Editors’ Blog

Solar panels a future option to protect US roads, bridges

By |  March 28, 2017

ConExpo-Con/Agg 2017 attendees observe Solar Roadways’
hexagon-shaped solar panels for roads and surfaces. Photo by
Megan Smalley

A number of ConExpo-Con/Agg 2017 attendees checked out Solar Roadways’ exhibit earlier this month in the Tech Experience plaza, where they tested out the company’s hexagon-shaped solar panels in Las Vegas.

Attendees jumped on and walked across the panels, which feature LED lights that changed colors as people tested their durability.

Scott Brusaw, cofounder of Solar Roadways, developed the solar panels a few years ago as a way to protect roads, bridges, parking lots and driveways against damage to asphalt, concrete and pavement. The panels contain heating elements to melt snow and ice accumulation. They also feature LED lights that have the ability to form lines and signage where needed on surfaces without the use of paint.

In addition, the tempered-glass panels feature microprocessors that enable the panels to communicate with each other or vehicles passing over them.

Brusaw presented the innovation during a Tech Talks session at ConExpo-Con/Agg, explaining how he believes the technology could eventually be placed on all roads and highways across the United States. According to Brusaw, the panels have been tested to assure they can hold the pressure of large vehicles like semi trucks. The innovation can limit road repairs, he says.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation has provided Brusaw with several grants to advance the technology. Brusaw also raised more than $2.2 million in an Indiegogo Inc. crowdfunding campaign. As a result of the funding, the panels have already been installed in a plaza in Sandpoint, Idaho. A few other small installations are planned for 2017, including an installation along Route 66 at a rest area in Missouri and a project in Baltimore, he says.

Many people – aggregate industry professionals included – would surely love to someday see a network of roads free of potholes and ice, as Brusaw envisions. Still, the concept could negatively impact the aggregate and construction industries.

One of Brusaw’s goals is to replace asphalt and concrete, according to an Associated Press article published in Trib Total Media (Pittsburgh) in October 2016. If this technology were to be adopted across the U.S., it would likely limit the nation’s need for aggregate.

It’s uncertain if the Solar Roadways technology will come to fruition anytime soon, but there is a possibility it could be the way of the future for roads. Other companies are already developing similar technologies today. A solar bike path was built in the Netherlands in 2014, and plans for solar roads are in the works in Germany and France, according to the Associated Press article.

While this technology might not be fully implemented today, it’s something aggregate producers may need to prepare for when considering the future of the industry.

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