PHOTOS: Solar Roadways promises clean power, end to shoveling - KMSP-TV

PHOTOS: Solar Roadways promises clean power, end to shoveling

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Credit: Dan Walden Credit: Dan Walden

The plows are parked in Minnesota, and spring's prolific crop of potholes has many people feeling frustrated as orange cones appear -- but one start-up is promising a sunnier future through innovative technology.

Solar Roadways, a small business based in Idaho, hit its goal of raising $1 million through Indiegogo on Sunday -- a full week ahead of the deadline.

The company's unique proposal to resurface the nation's roadways with heavy-duty solar panels made a big splash in the national press and online last week. Now, with funding secured and donations still pouring in, they're set to move forward with their prototypes.

NEVER SHOVEL AGAIN?

After surviving what was arguably the worst winter in 30 years, there's no doubt that Minnesotans are resilient. Yet, even the hardiest residents will admit months of shoveling driveways and sidewalks can make it tough to appreciate the winter wonderland -- but Solar Roadways says their product can cut that chore from the to-do list altogether.

The inventors and founders, Julie and Scott Brusaw, specifically designed the panels to do more than simply endure northern climates and snow. The solar panels use some of the energy they collect to power elements that keep the surface temperature a few degrees above freezing.

A self-heated roadway could render plows obsolete and curb icy collisions. Additionally, removing corrosive salt from the roadway would extend the life of motorists' vehicles.

The inventors also point out that the modular design should make it easy to simply swap out a damaged panel instead of relying on asphalt patches, which are becoming increasingly expensive.

DRIVING ON GLASS?

The solar panels are protected by a specially-designed tempered glass that allows light to get to the solar panels -- and allows the LED lights inside them to shine through in a variety of patterns -- but is as strong as steel.

VIDEO: Tractor test on solar driveway

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration has already provided Solar Roadways with two phases of funding to research and develop a paving system that will pay for itself over its life-span, and the second phase involved building a prototype parking lot.

Already, the glass surface has been tested for traction, load testing, and impact resistance by civil engineers across the country. It exceeded all requirements, and Solar Roadways is now raising money for production.

WATCH OUT FOR THAT PEDESTRIAN/DEER/DEBRIS

Every fall, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources warns drivers to keep an eye out for deer -- but the designers of Solar Roadways say in the future, the road itself could warn motorists of objects in their path.

Each panel has a microprocessor and 128 LED lights that can be programmed to show driving lanes and display a variety of configurations. Those lights can also illuminate an animal or person in the road while sending up a warning to oncoming motorists.

The panels are pressure-sensitive and can detect something as light as a child stepping into the road as well as tree or rock debris.

A SAFER WAY TO CONNECT

Many of America's highways are paired up with electrical lines and phone lines, but if Solar Roadways takes off, those unsightly poles laced with wires won't be visible anymore.

The roadways would be bordered by two channels called "cable corridors." One part would house electrical cables -- including power lines, data lines, fiber optics and high-speed internet.

Not only would putting the cables underground remove the risk of having a live wire on the road, but it could also cut down the number of power outages attributed to severe weather or crashes.

CUTTING STORMWATER POLLUTION

For the environmentally conscious, Solar Roadways say their creation offers even more perks than the clean energy provided to the grid. Not only do they use as many recycled materials as possible in the construction of the panels, but they are also tackling the problem of stormwater pollution.

The FWHA estimates that 50 percent of pollution in U.S. waterways is delivered by stormwater, but a section of the cable corridors could store, treat and move stormwater for agricultural and residential use.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

With their fundraising goal met, the production process is set to begin and be refined -- and the inventors say that if all American roads were upgraded to solar streets, they could produce three times as much energy as the nation currently uses.

Currently, the Brusaws are hoping to hire a team to help them refine the product and begin manufacturing. Although they anticipate starting with sidewalks and parking lots, they are setting their long-term sights much higher.

In fact, they believe a large-scale use of their product would create thousands of jobs in the U.S. and across the world. With millions of miles of roadway to potentially replace, the inventors say their technology could offer an avenue to manufacturing the economic recession away.

As for other industries affected -- particularly the fuel-reliant auto industry, the founders of Solar Roadways say they can make an all-electric-vehicle future more viable by making charging on the go a reality.

MORE: Solar Roadways on Facebook

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