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Transportation The Almighty Buck Build

Solar Roadways Project Beats $1M Goal, Should Enter Production 311

Posted by timothy
from the ok-but-what's-the-resolution dept.
Lucas123 (935744) writes "It appears an Idaho-based company that created prototype panels for constructing roads that (among other features) gather solar power, will be going into production after it exceeded its crowdfunding goal of $1M. ... Solar Roadways' Indiegogo project has already exceeded $1.6 million. The hexagonal-shaped solar panels consist of four layers, including photovoltaic cells, LED lights, an electronic support structure (circuit board) and a base layer made of recyclable materials. The panels plug together to form circuits that can then use LED lights to create any number of traffic patterns, as well as issue lighted warnings for drivers. The panels also have the ability to melt snow and ice. Along with the crowdfunding money, Solar Roadways has received federal grant money for development."
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Solar Roadways Project Beats $1M Goal, Should Enter Production

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  • by De Lemming (227104) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @08:48AM (#47135359) Homepage

    The Verge had a good article criticizing this project [theverge.com]. The article doesn't break down the project completely, but points out why their goals are far-fetched, and people should not get too exited.

    Also note that when looking at the project, it's not initially clear that a connection with the main electricity grid is still necessary. At night, displaying the signs and defrosting the road is done with electricity from the net. During the day, the solar panels can transfer electricity back to the grid. Their current implementation doesn't include batteries to store electricity locally, and this wouldn't be very environmentally friendly anyway.

  • Re:Deja vu (Score:5, Informative)

    by nysus (162232) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @08:59AM (#47135397)

    That is, in fact, their plan.

    Read about it on the "Vision" page of their website: http://www.solarroadways.com/v... [solarroadways.com]

  • Re:Deja vu (Score:5, Informative)

    by nysus (162232) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @09:06AM (#47135423)

    They address this on their website:

    "What are you going to do about traction? What's going to happen to the surface of the Solar Roadways when it rains>

    Everyone naturally pictures sliding out of control on a smooth piece of wet glass! Actually, one of our many technical specs is that it be textured to the point that it provides at least the traction that current asphalt roads offer - even in the rain. We hesitate to even call it glass, as it is far from a traditional window pane, but glass is what it is, so glass is what we must call it.

    We sent samples of textured glass to a university civil engineering lab for traction testing. We started off being able to stop a car going 40 mph on a wet surface in the required distance. We designed a more and more aggressive surface pattern until we got a call form the lab one day: we'd torn the boot off of the British Pendulum Testing apparatus! We backed off a little and ended up with a texture that can stop a vehicle going 80 mph in the required distance."

    Not sure how true or relevant this is but they do address it.

  • Re:Deja vu (Score:5, Informative)

    by nysus (162232) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @10:51AM (#47135921)

    Sorry, I was scrolling up and down the page, got distracted, and copied the answer from the wrong question. Here's what they say:

    "How will you replace damaged panels in a highway?

    Since our system is modular, repair will be much quicker and easier than our current maintenance system for asphalt roads. We've learned that in the U.S., over $160 billion is lost each year in lost productivity from people sitting in traffic due to road maintenance.

    Each of the panels contain their own microprocessor, which communicates wireless with surrounding panels. If one of them should become damaged and stop communicating, then the rest of the panels can report the problem. For instance, "I-95 mile marker 114.3 northbound lane, third panel in, panel number A013C419 not responding".

    Each panel assembly weighs 110-pounds. A single operator could load a good panel into his/her truck and respond to the scene. The panel could be swapped out and reprogrammed in a few minutes. The damaged panel would then be returned to a repair center. Think of how this compares to pot hole repair!"

  • by reg (5428) <reg@freebsd.org> on Saturday May 31, 2014 @07:24PM (#47138583) Homepage

    As someone with a PhD in Pavement Engineering, and an active researcher into pavement design, let me say this is a classic case of someone thinking that because something looks simple it is. Pavements are the most complex civil engineering structures to design, because they are the only structures designed to fail in fatigue. My wife showed me their video the other day, and all I could do was laugh. Reading their FAQ now, shows they've never asked an actual pavement engineer for their input (and FHWA funding shows nothing, in fact googling shows that they're not even really being funded by the FHWA research budget but by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program i.e. this is money to promote small business, the research is a secondary goal).

    Just a correction for you though - there is not really an AASHTO testing protocol, that was a one off test done 50s and 60s. Now, most proof testing of these types of innovative designs are done by accelerated pavement testing.

    Before we even look at the engineering, look at the cost: the highest cost pavement currently are precast concrete slabs, which are similar in some ways to this idea (except they are 50 times the size). They cost about $3 million per lane mile to install. There are over 8 million lane miles of public road in the US, so their idea in their video of covering all the roads in the US would only cost $24 trillion (or nearly twice the US annual GDP) assuming they could get the cost down to that of concrete... Assuming for the moment that the solar panels themselves are cost neutral, just the cost of the glass and support structures would make this impossible to afford.

    From an engineering perspective, you have functional and structural criteria. Functional are skid resistance, spray, noise and light reflectivity. The glass would polish, resulting in low skid resistance at high speed, and bad light reflection. Their textured surface would be OK for low speed skid, but really bad for noise and spray, even with drainage between the panels. Many new pavements have a porous top layer for this. Their paving stone like pattern would be really bad for noise (like block paving). Putting LED lights into pressure sensors for animals would be fun, but probably not reliable, and on roads you have to have systems that are reliable because either drivers can trust them, or they are a waste of time.

    Structurally, the fact that they refer to gross vehicle mass is a dead giveaway that they don't know the first thing about pavements... The critical number is wheel load. Their panels look to be an awkward size between an interlocking block paver where the wheel load is spread across several blocks, and a concrete slab. The panels would need to be connected in such a way that they can expand and contract, with sufficient load transfer between panels for the entire surface to act as a continuum. With this size of panel there would a lot of flex at the joints, which would break most materials. Concrete slabs get joined using 1 inch dowel bars... Assuming these were placed on existing pavements, maybe they would work, but my guess is that they would get beat up quickly by highway traffic.

    Then there is a question of life cycle assessment. Their "numbers" page shows they also know nothing about this either. They just include the benefits... There is no measure of the system, including manufacture, construction, maintenance, etc. They also don't have albedo measurements, etc...

    So, to conclude, I don't think this idea is going anywhere fast. Their first step should be to hire a pavement engineer. Then they need to do some lab testing, then use their $1.7 million for an accelerated pavement test to determine if their design can work as a road, before they do any more messing around with electronics... At least their idea is not as silly as the people who want to put piezoelectric generators into pavements to capture all the "wasted" energy...

    Regards,
    -Jeremy

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