Best of Fish & Bicycles: Stuff We Need: Electric Roadways

Originally Published: November 4, 2010


I read some great, hope-inspiring stuff on the automotive front today.

While I’m a big fan of mass transit, I tend to think that sustainable transportation plans that aim to eliminate cars altogether face way too much resistance. Car culture is just so firmly embedded in the human psyche, and not just in the U.S.

And so I like to watch the trends in electric car technologies, and I came across the following items making my regular rounds at Inhabitat.

First up:

Sweden-based architect Mans Tham went halfway around the world with this design for a serpent-shaped solar skin for the Sana Monica Freeway…

From afar the solar structure looks like a long scaly serpent winding its way through the stucco and palm tree studded neighborhoods. Inside is a shaded tunnel-like roadway. Outside is a massive array of solar panels that produce a peak of 150 mWhs of clean energy for the local population.

An intriguing idea for sure, and the computer mock-ups are incredibly cool-looking:

And yet, I don’t really see much chance of L.A. residents supporting the idea. With the amount of time the average person spends stuck in traffic during their commutes on the Santa Monica Freeway, I can see folks complaining that they can’t at least enjoy unhindered scenery while they creep along. Others might complain of claustrophobia, since even the longest road tunnel to-date is only 15.2 miles long.

So, one of the commenters at Inhabitat, possibly thinking about these issues or others, provided a link to an article on what seems to be a better solution:

Putting the solar panels on the road itself:

“Julie turned to me and said, ‘Can’t you make those electric roads you’ve always dreamed of out of solar panels?’ At first I said, ‘No. Solar panels are very fragile and you can’t even step on them, let alone drive on them.’ So we started batting this idea back and forth and thinking of things like a black box on an airplane. That’s a little case that houses sensitive electronics through the worst of airplane crashes and protects them. If we could make a bigger version of that—a structurally engineered compartment for solar cells that would withstand the beating of an 18-wheeler—then, yeah, we could make a solar panel that you could actually drive on…

On the visit to the University of Dayton, Scott found them working on what was called bomb-resistant glass; for vehicles in war scenarios, a bomb could go off at point-blank range and the glass wouldn’t blow inward creating shrapnel for the vehicle’s occupants. One researcher on that project looked over Scott’s specs. “He said we could take that formula, tweak it a little bit, lay it down on the road and it would take anything an 18-wheeler could do to it,” Scott recalled. “That was exactly what I wanted to hear.”

The project began progressing from there. “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.

To sum up the rest of the article, they got funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, determined that the roads could actually pay for themselves over a projected 20-year lifespan (they generate very valuable electricity, after all!), they’ve built a prototype, and now they’re in search of more funding in order to move the idea forward.

Now, in that article, Scott Brusaw relates that his idea grew out of childhood memories (memories I have too) of a toy racing car track that had electrified grooves in it. The toy cars, then, had small metal pieces that protruded out from the bottom, the cars would be placed on the track with the metal piece in the electrified groove, and a handheld controller with a trigger allowed the “driver” to control the flow of electricity, making the car move, and the more you pulled the trigger the faster the car went.

Well, back at Inhabitat, there’s this news that electrified roadways may soon be a reality for more than toy cars:

World’s First Wireless Electric Car Charger Launched In UK

The company (HaloIPT) is planning to electrify parts of England’s M25 motorway by using magnetic induction, a principle that was first discovered in the 1800s. The Inductive Power Transfer system allows a car fitted with a simple integrated receiver pad to be charged automatically when parked or driven on roads with HaloIPT’s special charging pads beneath their surface. If major road routes such as the M25 are ‘electrified’, then it will greatly increase the range and the appeal of electric vehicles.

The IPT is designed to be compatible with all vehicles (including eBikes and heavy goods vehicles), and it has been designed to function under any weather conditions — even if the driver doesn’t align the car properly with the pads embedded in the asphalt. The system was tested by HaloIPT on a Citroen C1, named Evie, to see the charging performance of the IPT. It took six hours to fully charge Evie from 20 percent capacity, with the energy sourced from a regular household socket. The company also says their system can charge even at distances of up to 40 centimeters.

“We’re using IPT to break down the barriers to mass-market adoption of electric cars,” says HaloIPT’s CEO, Anthony Thomson. “Keeping electric vehicle costs down is a key priority for us.”

Now THAT is exciting!

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