Route 66, has connected Santa Monica, Calif. and Chicago, Ill., since 1926 and, for a long time, was a major pathway for those travelling across the United States. With the creation of the interstate highway system, the road's popularity plummeted, and today, it is largely used as a scenic route.
This year, however, a portion of the oldie-but-goodie highway may get a very modern upgrade—photovoltaic pavers. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) hopes to add hexagonal, solar panel pavers at the Historic Route 66 Welcome Center at Conway, making it the first public right of way of its kind in the United States.
The solar pavers are produced by Solar Roadways, a company created by husband-and-wife team, Scott and Julie Brusaw. The company describes their solar roads as “a modular system of specially engineered solar panels that can be walked and driven upon. [The] panels contain LED lights to create lines and signage without paint [and] contain heating elements to prevent snow and ice accumulation.” The tempered-glass panels also contain microprocessors, allowing them to communicate with each other, a central control station and vehicles. The panels are also modular; a design that limits traffic disruption during repairs.
The couple claims, if all of America’s 31,000 square miles of roads and parking lots were paved with their solar panels, the system would generate 13,385 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. That’s more than three times the amount consumed by the United States in 2009.
The Brusaws have been working on their solar panels for 12 years and have received three grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund research and development—totaling more than $1.6 million dollars. They are also well known for their wildly successful 2014 crowdfunding campaign, in which they raised more than $2.2 million from individual donors using Indiegogo.com.
The plans were announced in Kansas City in early June as part of MoDOT’s Road to Tomorrow, an initiative to explore future roadway technology and add value to the state’s transportation system. The initiative includes other projects such as smart pavement, smart traffic control systems and truck platooning.
Tom Blair, leader of the Road to Tomorrow Initiative said, “We expect [the solar panels] to be in place, I’m hoping, by the end of this year, maybe before snow flies.”
MoDOT was enthusiastic about a solar panel project despite many unknowns, including how big of a section of Route 66 would be paved, how much power the system would produce and if they would have the money to pay for it. Blair said that the department will turn to the public to fund the project, utilizing crowdfunding sources on the internet.
Finally, questions of how the solar roadway system would work on a large-scale, real-life application also arise; currently, it has only ever been installed in the parking lot of the Bursaw’s home and laboratory in Idaho.