A section of America’s most famous highway is going green, The Christian Science Monitor reports. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) plans to create the nation’s first solar-powered public road by lining a portion of Route 66 with energy-generating photovoltaic pavers. The pavers will be installed near a rest stop in Conway, Missouri, where they’ll hopefully produce enough electricity to power the facilities and fund future projects.
The pavers were created by Idaho startup Solar Roadways, which was founded by husband-and-wife team Scott and Julie Brusaw. The company aims to create renewable energy from the solar energy that hits the surfaces we walk or drive over, like roads and sidewalks and bike paths. To harness this power, the Brusaws developed a unique line of tempered glass hexagonal solar panels.
These panels weigh about 70 pounds each, and can reportedly support the weight of semi-trucks. They have an asphalt-like traction surface so cars won’t slip and skid, and they’re fitted with LED lights to create lines and signage without paint. An added bonus? The panels can warm up to thaw icy roads.
In 2011, the Brusaws were awarded a two-year $750,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct further research on their product. They used these funds to build the world’s first prototype solar parking lot next to their Idaho headquarters. In 2014, the couple raised more than $2.2 million via crowdfunding efforts to bring the technology to market, Curbed reports.
By paving America’s roads and parking lots with their special panels, the Brusaws claim, our nation could generate more than three times the country’s electricity consumption in 2009. However, critics say that transportation officials can barely afford to fund America’s existing concrete and asphalt roads, let alone ones lined with solar panels. (Solar Roadways argues that states’ departments of transportation don’t get enough money from the gas tax to repair roads, and that solar highways would increase energy savings.) They also question the panels' long-term durability.
A solar paneled road sounds futuristic, but Europe has already test-driven similar technologies. In 2015, the Netherlands created a 230-foot bike path that’s paved with glass-coated solar panels. After six months, it had generated enough electricity to power a small house for a year. Meanwhile, France also plans to resurface more than 600 miles of road with a type of solar panel that can help generate renewable energy.
Watch the video above to see Solar Roadways’ panels work—and if you want to check out Missouri’s road in action, expect for it to be fully installed and operational by the end of 2016.
Banner/Header image courtesy of Solar Roadways