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Road Show Of The Future

Michal Ish Shalom

If engineer Scott Brusaw of Idaho has his way, all of America’s energy needs will be met by his brainstorm invention — solar roadways made of glass and solar panels that will not only light themselves up to direct traffic, but will produce enough energy to extricate the country from dependence on fossil fuel, serve as a solution to environmental disasters, and pull the global economy out of its dire straits. Fact or fantasy?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

 

Scott Brusaw of Sagle, Idaho, is planning to put an end to potholes, iced-over roads, and invisible deer crossings with a futuristic roadway that will make you think you’re driving through a science fiction novel.

The fifty-three-year-old electrical engineer and CEO of Solar Roadways is planning — with a grant from the Federal Highway Administration — to outfit the street around his business with a prototype of his vision: a series of structurally engineered glass panels that have the strength of steel and can withhold the abuse of a Mack truck. Sandwiched within the glass are solar cells that power the embedded heating elements, which operate much like the rear window defogger in a car. The panels, in addition to lighting up the road, would produce enough energy to electrify the entire neighborhood.

The panels contain LED lights for illuminating traffic signals from beneath the surface to ensure safer nighttime driving. Brusaw also included a microprocessor board that senses pressure changes and spells out messages to indicate that wildlife or pedestrians are crossing the roadway even before they are visible.

Scott and Julie Brusaw, childhood friends who used to play with make-believe electric cars when they were six years old, were sitting on their porch one day, preoccupied with climate and related environmental issues, when Julie turned to her husband and said, “Can’t you make those electric roads you used to dream about out of solar panels?” At first, Scott just humored his wife (who is now his business partner) — after all, solar panels are so fragile you can’t even step on them, let alone drive on them. But then he began to think out of the box — perhaps it would be possible to create a compartment for solar cells that would be able to withstand the beating of an 18-wheeler?

Brusaw then contacted the country’s top material research labs and learned about some surprising, and little-known properties of glass. The researchers were optimistic about the possibility of creating high-traction, no-slip, strong-as-steel glass that could be laid down on a road and take the beating of heavy traffic.

“I knew then that we could take this glass surface and put solar cells underneath it,” said Scott. “They wouldn’t be touched by the traffic and they would just collect power from the roads that are baking in the sun anyway.

“And since we’re generating power, we could put in electric circuitry. We live on a long, winding mountainous road, and when it rains, I can barely see the edge. So we thought, what if we put LEDs in there so that we could illuminate the road lines from underneath, sort of like driving on top of a video game?

“We could also install sensors that would detect when something was on the road. Where we live there are a lot of animal collisions — deer, moose, and every once in a while people hit a bear. So let’s say I’m driving home one night and a deer walks around the next curve. The sensors can tell the panels up ahead to flash ‘slow down’ so the driver is ready for whatever is lurking around that invisible bend.”

The road would have innumerable other properties, including the ability to heat up and melt snow and ice, eliminating the need for snow removal and making road travel safer for drivers.

Scott and Julie Brusaw’s long-range goal is to cover all the concrete and asphalt surfaces that are exposed to the sun with solar road panels, which they claim will end America’s dependency on fossil fuels.

But the big question for the Brusaws is this: do they, practically, envision a time when solar roadways will be the energy of the future, implemented around America’s cities?

“Absolutely, and not just America,” Scott Brusaw told Mishpacha. “We’re way past the point of having a practical solution to the problems that the world is facing: global warming and the global economic collapse just to name two. Full implementation of the solar roadways can go a long way to fixing both of these problems and several others.

“We’re aware that this won’t happen overnight,” he qualifies. “We’ll need to start off small: driveways, bike paths, patios, sidewalks, parking lots, and playgrounds. This is where we’ll learn our lessons and perfect our system. Once the bugs have been resolved, we’ll plan to move on to public roads.”

And the price tag? Brusaw estimates that these solar roadways will cost $4.4 million a mile.

There are 2,734,102 miles of paved roads in the US, and 50,000 miles of interstate highways alone. Multiply that by 4.4 million, and the numbers run off the page. But Brusaw insists that the cleaner, self-sustaining highway would pay for itself within twenty-two years, while America becomes energy-independent in the process.

 

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