Solar roads could end winter hazards

IDAHO - Winter driving: Just uttering those two words are enough to fill any driver with a sense of dread.

Snow and ice not only make driving treacherous, it also costs the nation billions in lost productivity every season.

But one ambitious plan by a U.S. engineer could make snowplows obsolete in the near future.

Scott Brusaw, a 53-year-old electrical engineer from Idaho, has already generated heaps of interest from the U.S. government and General Electric with his idea for a solar-powered roadway.

The idea would be to ditch conventional petroleum-based asphalt in favour of a sturdy glass material that would house solar cells. The road would have two functions – heat up the road and eventually generate electricity to power electric vehicles and signs on the road.

The heating action would work just "like in the rear window of your car," Brusaw told CNN.

But Brusaw's smart road idea, if it ever gets off the ground, won't come cheap.

He estimates it would cost $4.4 million US just to lay down one mile of solar-powered road. But he believes the cost of the new technology would be more than offset by the clean energy it would provide the U.S. or any other country.

"Our ultimate goal is to be able to store excess energy in or alongside the Solar Roadways," the project's website states. "This renewable energy replaces the need for the current fossil fuels used for the generation of electricity. This, in turn, cuts greenhouse gases literally in half."

Brusaw also dismisses worries that glass won't be able to sustain the grind of day-to-day traffic, claiming "glass, especially when fused together in layers, is stronger than most people think." The project has joined forces with top glass researchers at University of Dayton and Penn State to develop material strong enough to support vehicles and provide traction.

Brusaw received a $100,000 contract from the Federal Highway Administration in 2009 to develop his smart road idea, but it's still early days.

He hopes to have a working prototype installed in the parking lot of a national chain, like a McDonald's, by early spring.

"We'll need to start off small: driveways, bike paths, patios, sidewalks, parking lots, playgrounds," Brusaw says on his website. "This is where we'll learn our lessons and perfect our system. Once the lessons have been learned and the bugs have all been resolved, we'll plan to move out onto public roads."


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