When you think about innovations in the auto industry, you most likely think about the ways your car has progressed as opposed to evolutions in the road itself. However, there has recently been a push to reinvigorate the way some roads are designed so that they can better accommodate the 73 million cars operating today. These initiatives have also taken sustainability into account. As a result, there are a few examples of green, energy-efficient roadway innovations in the world today that aim to take the way you drive to the next level.

 

Sustainable Innovations: Recharge on a Rumble Road

Nowadays, cars are more than just tools that you can use to get around town. Almost every car that’s been released in the past half decade is a highly efficient, computerized device that can work in tandem with your phone or other Internet-of-Things oriented device. As such, the need for portable power supplies in cars, or ways for cars to charge electronic devices, has become especially necessary. Enter piezoelectric energy harvesting, or more colloquially, a “rumble road.” These sustainable roadways are less well known than some other green options, but they are especially effective when it comes to collecting and transferring energy back to your car.

 

Sustainable Innovations:  Charging Down the Highway

“Rumble roads” operate pretty simply. These roadways collect energy through the use of piezoelectric energy harvesting, a process that has grown in popularity thanks to its simplicity and ability to scale to projects of various sizes. When it comes to integration into roadways, the use of piezoelectric harvesting techniques offers drivers and architectural engineers alike an opportunity to capitalize on a product – that is to say, cars – that is already in use in order to easily collected high volumes of transferable energy.

How do piezoelectric “rumble roads” work, then? For starters: when one of these “rumble roads” is first laid down, it is embedded with crystals. When cars drive over the road, the shape of those crystals is altered. That change in shape produces energy, which is then stored in batteries to be redistributed. One such road has already been integrated into a Californian highway. Established in 2014, this rumble road uses the energy is collected from passing cars to power its streetlights. However, before long, it’s been proposed that rumble roads will be able to transfer their collected energy back into the cellphone in your car or other nearby electronic devices.

Solar Roads: A Sunny Alternative

If you’re looking for a roadway innovation that’s a little more familiar, don’t fret. Solar powered roads have also been established around the world. These roadways make use of solar panels tucked beneath a layer of asphalt. Because of the way the panels are laid, neither the asphalt nor any make of car passing overhead will disrupt their collection of solar rays. Once enough energy has been gathered, these panels will redistribute it, much like rumble roads, into nearby streetlights or other sources.

One such solar powered road, which has been operating in Normandy, France, since 2016, even provides electricity to a nearby town. While the United States is looking towards similar integration, research into solar roads is ongoing. Scott and Julie Brushaw, in particular, are challenging the way the United States government thinks about its integration of sustainable technologies into state-wide roadways. Their company, known as Solar Roadways, is pushing for the use of these roadways by emphasizing the economic benefits they present both to car manufacturers, individual drivers, and state governments.

 

Sustainable Innovations: Integration of UV Permeable Materials

Traditional solar power is, of course, well-researched and reasonably well-circulated in public consciousness. That said, there are existing variations on the solar panels and the solar road that are able to increase the roads’ usability and ability to process and refine gathered energy. This is done through the integration of UV permeable materials into existing solar panels. The UV light is light that is not visible to the human eye. As such, it vibrates at a faster rate per second than visible light. UV waves, then, produce more energy than standard light waves. When it becomes possible to collect these light waves and convert them into usable energy, UV permeable solar panels are able to produce greater amounts of energy than their standard counterparts.

 

Sustainable Innovations: Expanding the Energy Spectrum

Naturally, solar panels with UV permeable materials integrated into their structure need to be tested before they’re used as common roadway materials. As of November 2015, standard solar panels and UV panels alike have been exposed to varying extreme temperatures, high levels of force, and varying moisture-based expansions in order to ensure that they’ll be able to hold up when used on international roadways.

Even so, roads making sole use of UV permeable solar panels have yet to be established, as well. However, the same company that saw to the establishment of a solar roadway near Normandy is looking to push development of these sorts of panels forward. This company, Wattway, has made it clear that it intends to deepen its research into sustainable roadway solutions in the years to come.

Comparatively, Chinese company, Qilu Transportation Development, is looking to ensure that Chinese drivers near the city of Jinan can power their cities while horsepower in no time at all. The Jinan solar road currently powers 300 homes near the highway. Qilu Transportation, much like its French counterpart, had made it clear that it intends to take advantage of improving access to sustainable materials in order to ensure that alternative forms of energy are readily available to those who are able to seek it out.

It’s easy to see, then, that the future of the roadway is transforming. Not only are drivers able to power their cars with electricity, but there’s also potential for the roadway itself to provide them with that charge. The potential of solar power and piezoelectric energy harvesting promises not only to change the way roadway infrastructure is thought about but to challenge creative minds to develop cars that can conserve energy and take advantage of more natural sources of power.

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