THE ROAD TO THE FUTURE

Road of the futureNowadays we’re on the road to the future, heading towards sustainability. Imagine the future of transportation, usually we think of electric autonomous cars. But when vehicles evolve in the future, roads have to evolve as well. Vehicles depend on infrastructure and roads are therefore designed to support. Today, roads are just hard surface which consists mainly of asphalt, but they can become so much more! In this blog I will explain several innovations that you will see along the way, when you are on the road of the future.

Imagine if we replace asphalt with solar cells. Roads can collect sunlight, convert this to electricity and fulfil our current electricity needs. It’s a lot of potential power! In the video below, the founders introduce their original idea of a solar road. They want to construct a roadway of panels’ build of a layer of solar cells between layers of glass. The challenge is to design glass that is strong enough to bear trucks but also clear enough to allow sunlight in. When these problems are solved there’s nothing to get in the way of constructing a solar road.

In addition of solar panels implemented between glass panels,  led lights can be easily installed beneath the glass. These lights can be used to provide messages like speed guidance or up to date traffic information.  We can even use it for dynamic lines in traffic management and switch between a continuous and a dotted line for instance.

Rather than making more energy available in using solar panels we could also save a lot of energy on road lighting. Roads are lightened along thousands of miles of asphalt up to 12 hours every night. The N329 highway in Oss, Netherlands has found an alternative and makes use of a photo-luminescent powder integrated into road paint. The powder charges up by daytime and can glow up to 8 hours at dark as you can see in the photo below.  Although it is a pilot project at this stage, it is a promising, sustainable alternative for our current lighting.

Glow in the dark road near Oss, Netherlands

Another lighting option is the idea to use motion sensor lights, called interactive light. It is perfect for less-travelled highways linking the villages in the eastern part of the Netherlands for instance. The general principle is that when a car approaches, the movement is detected and the light goes on. When the car passes by, the lights will slowly dim away. In addition, the Delft University of Technology designed a wireless communication system which linked all the lights to one another. Because of this system the surrounding lights will also grow brighter making the area around clearly visible. This overall system of interactive lighting will reduce energy consumption and light pollution.

In my opinion, from now on roads will be no longer just a hard surface to travel from one place to another. We can use the surface area to gain solar energy. We can use the surface to provide us with actual traffic information. We can make roads more energy efficient by using different light options. What keeps us from using these initiatives? Let’s innovate the Dutch road and become front leader in terms of sustainable infrastructure for today, tomorrow and the future.

(written by Eva)

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3 thoughts on “THE ROAD TO THE FUTURE”

  1. Hi Eva!
    I really like this idea! I first heard about it from this youtube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlTA3rnpgzU) which has been shared enthusiastically on social media. I was a bit skeptical because they would not work when there was snow, but I just found out the Solar Roadways panel have an integrated heating component! So cool! So no icy roads anymore :). Did you know that already have a small piece of bicycle path in the Netherlands that uses solar panels? It looks so magical! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBTx87xiscs)
    Love Pauline

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    1. Hi Pauline,
      Thank you for your reaction. Yes I have heard about the integrated heating component,indeed very cool! I think it is particularly useful in other countries which have colder average temperatures. In the Netherlands we have only a few days of frost annually. Do you think it would be economically profitable to implement this in our country?

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  2. Thanks for sharing this post Eva! I definitely agree with you that roads should no longer be just a hard surface to travel from one place to another. Especially for roads which aren’t all that busy and/or places where the sun shines a lot, replacing asphalt with solar cells could be a nice sustainable and valuable innovation. Because traffic is still increasing and the sun doesn’t always shine I think we should also take into consideration techniques to use the vibrations caused by traffic to generate electricity. Now, the vibration energy gets lost as unused heat in the ground. I know that a pilot project carried out by engineering agency Tauw and the University of Twente at the N34 in Hardenberg concluded that traffic vibration energy could be transformed into useful energy. Although this technique is quite new for infrastructure and more research is necessary, I think it could be an interesting option to take into consideration if we want to become front leader in terms of sustainable infrastructure!

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