Finding greener ways to drive isn’t just about vehicles. Recently a couple in Idaho raised a record 1.5 million in croudsource funding through Indiegogo.com to fund their project to find a way to pave with solar cells rather than asphalt or concrete. The idea of creating enough energy through the roadways—enough to eliminate traditional sources of generating electricity such as coal—proved wildly popular, to say the least.
Volvo is researching a similar concept with the Swedish Transport Association to create a section of road in Gothenburg that is a rolling charger for electric buses. Charging roadways could someday eliminate the worry associated with the limited range of today’s electric vehicles.
The Idaho couple, Scott and Julie Brusaw, explain that there’s more to converting roadways into energy sources than just burying solar cells in pavement. Scott is a trained electrical engineer and has developed a hexagonal block containing a solar cell encased in heavy glass. With LEDs, painted lines and words could be eliminated. Heating elements could prevent some icing over in cold climates. Brusaw says the blocks could withstand 250,000 lbs, which is adequate support for any oversized load. Converting the 29,000 square miles of roadway in the U.S., say the Brusaws, could equal enough power to eliminate fossil fuel generators.
Solar paving would cost anywhere from 50 percent more to three times as much as asphalt, and how the blocks withstand collisions, snowplows and road salt in extreme cold weather climates, etc. is unknown. The Brusaws will be taking a look at those issues and others using their prototype parking lot.
The couple has been steadily gaining backers and has landed grants from the Federal Highway Administration, one for $750,000. The Indiegogo.com campaign beat their $1 million goal, raising $1.5 million from 36,000 people, setting a record for the most individual contributors to a campaign.
The concept of induction charging is gaining attention from automakers and governments worldwide. Niklas Gustavsson, vice president of Corporate Sustainability for the Volvo Group, said, “Vehicles capable of being charged directly from the road during operation could become the next pioneering step in the development towards reduced environmental impact.” There are charging systems currently in use in Utah, Torino, Italy and Gumi, South Korea with more in the works. The thinking is that more can be incorporated into the highways for electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S.
Currently, induction charging systems have to be powered by the power grid, but the Brusaws suggest that their solar blocks would work well with in-road charging systems to simultaneously generate and provide power for a wide array of zero emission vehicles.