Knowing what we know now about climate change, it's clear that the tangled web of black asphalt roads that outlines our country is working against us. Asphalt can absorbs tons of heat, often reaching temperatures of up to 140 degrees in the summer and the process by which it's made isn't environmentally friendly either, but there may be a way to turn that pavement into an energy resource.
Researchers at the University of Rhode Island have come up with four ways to harness the solar energy absorbed by pavement and put it to good use and they're working on ways to implement them now.
The first, and the simplest, is is to wrap flexible solar PV cells around the top of Jersey barriers that divide highways. Those cells would power streetlights and illuminate road signs. Cells could also be embedded in the pavement between the barriers and rumble strip.
The second is to embed water-filled pipes under the asphalt and the heat from the sun would warm the water. That water could be piped to bridges to melt ice and reduce the need for road salt and ice-clearing trucks. It could also be piped to nearby buildings for hot water and heating needs or converted to steam to turn a turbine.
Because asphalt retains heat really well, the pipes would stay warm even after sunset. Tests have shown the water can even get hotter than the asphalt.
The third use is to use a thermo-electric effect to generate energy. By linking a hot and cold spot with two types of semiconductors, a small amount of electricity can be generated in the circuit. Those thermo-electric materials could be embedded in the road (some in sunny parts and some in shady ones) and the energy produced could be used could to defrost roads.
The fourth use is the most complex and it involves getting rid of the asphalt completely and replacing it with huge electronic blocks that contain PV cells, LED lights and sensors. The blocks would generate electricity, illuminate lanes and emit warnings when maintenance was needed. The researchers say this technology already exists but is very expensive. They see this technology coming to parking lots before roadways.
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