Com­pany de­buts so­lar side­walks

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

SAND­POINT, Idaho: Scott Bru­saw has a vi­sion for the na­tion’s roads. He be­lieves the so­lar-pow­ered glass pavers his com­pany makes could trans­form thou­sands of miles of pave­ment into a new en­ergy source. His busi­ness, So­lar Road­ways, re­cently un­veiled its first public in­stal­la­tion, in a down­town plaza in this north­ern Idaho re­sort town. It’s 150 square feet of hexagon-shaped so­lar panels that peo­ple can walk and bi­cy­cle on.

The com­pany is work­ing on proof that the panels, for which it has a patent, are strong enough and have enough trac­tion to han­dle mo­tor ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing semi­trail­ers.

“Our plan is to re­place all the as­phalt and con­crete,” said Bru­saw, not­ing con­crete oc­cu­pies over 48,000 square miles in the US. “If you cover it with so­lar panels, we can make three times our en­ergy needs.”

So­lar Road­ways is among a grow­ing num­ber of com­pa­nies em­brac­ing re­new­able en­ergy as the U.S. aims to re­duce car­bon emis­sions by one-third from 2005 lev­els by 2030. But it is the only busi­ness re­ceiv­ing fed­eral high­way re­search money in pur­suit of so­lar road panels, part of the Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to fight cli­mate change, said Doug He­cox, a spokesman for the agency in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

Bru­saw and his wife, Julie, got the idea for their Idaho busi­ness after watch­ing the Al Gore movie “An In­con­ve­nient Truth” and de­cid­ing they also wanted to join the bat­tle against global warm­ing. They aren’t the only ones eye­ing roads and side­walks as a po­ten­tial en­ergy source. A so­lar bike path was built in the Nether­lands in 2014, and Ger­many and France have an­nounced plans to build so­lar roads in the fu­ture. The Bru­saws hope to beat them into mass pro­duc­tion. In­cor­po­rated in 2006, So­lar Road­ways has re­ceived three FHA grants, to­tal­ing $1.6 mil­lion, and fund­ing from the state and a lo­cal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment agency. It also drew 50,000 donors who raised $2.2 mil­lion on Indiegogo, a crowd­sourc­ing site.

Can glass re­ally sup­port semis?

So­lar Road­ways has been test­ing the strength of its half-inch-thick glass by drop­ping 1-pound steel balls on it from a height of 8 feet, a stan­dard test for con­crete. So far, the tests have been suc­cess­ful, Bru­saw said.

The glass has a trac­tion sur­face that is equiv­a­lent to as­phalt. In tests, ve­hi­cles are able to stop in the re­quired dis­tance, he said. In strength tests, the panels can hold 250,000 pounds, three times the le­gal limit for a semi­trailer.

What do the panels look like?

They are made of tem­pered glass, weigh about 70 pounds each and con­tain lights that can be pro­grammed to di­rect traf­fic or alert driv­ers to prob­lems.

Each hexag­o­nal panel is about 31 inches point-to-point. The panels con­tain mi­cro­pro­ces­sors that al­low them to com­mu­ni­cate with each other, a cen­tral con­trol sta­tion and ve­hi­cles. They also are de­signed to be eas­ily re­placed if dam­aged. Ac­cord­ing to So­lar Road­ways, heat pro­duced by the panels keeps road­ways snow- and ice-free, im­prov­ing win­ter driv­ing safety. The panels can cur­rently be used for side­walks, drive­ways and park­ing lots. The com­pany is still seek­ing per­mis­sion from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to use them in roads. So­lar Road­ways wants to set up a man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity for the glass panels in Sand­point as early as next year. “We want to get the cost down to where the av­er­age home­owner can af­ford it,” Julie Bru­saw said. For now, the Bru­saws are do­ing cus­tom jobs, but they en­vi­sion do-it-your­selfers buy­ing the panels at hard­ware stores. The next public in­stal­la­tions will be in Bal­ti­more and at a Route 66 rest area in Mis­souri, Scott Bru­saw said. Both are sur­faces for pedes­tri­ans.

— AP

SAND­POINT: In this Sept 30, 2016, photo, So­lar Road­ways founders Scott Bru­saw, left, and Julie Bru­saw dis­play a one-third sized replica of one of their so­lar pave­ment panels at a news con­fer­ence.

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