Capturing solar energy from asphalt pavements

Capturing solar energy from asphalt pavements

Summary: Massachusetts researchers have found a new method for capturing solar energy. They're using heat from asphalt and other paved surfaces to produce electricity. Through asphalt, 'the researchers are developing a solar collector that could turn roads and parking lots into ubiquitous -- and inexpensive -- sources of electricity and hot water.' This is an excellent idea because parking lots stay hot at night -- at least during summer -- and 'could continue to generate energy after the sun goes down, unlike traditional solar-electric cells.' Furthermore, there is no need to find land to build solar farms. Finally, there would be another advantage. Unlike rooftop solar panels, solar collectors in roads and parking lots would be invisible. Now it remains to be seen if this research team can convince the industry to change the way they're building roads. But read more...

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Massachusetts researchers have found a new method for capturing solar energy. They're using heat from asphalt and other paved surfaces to produce electricity. Through asphalt, 'the researchers are developing a solar collector that could turn roads and parking lots into ubiquitous -- and inexpensive -- sources of electricity and hot water.' This is an excellent idea because parking lots stay hot at night -- at least during summer -- and 'could continue to generate energy after the sun goes down, unlike traditional solar-electric cells.' Furthermore, there is no need to find land to build solar farms. Finally, there would be another advantage. Unlike rooftop solar panels, solar collectors in roads and parking lots would be invisible. Now it remains to be seen if this research team can convince the industry to change the way they're building roads. But read more...

This research work has been led by Rajib Mallick, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), at the request of Michael Hulen, president of Novotech in Acton, MA. Mallick was helped by Bao-Liang Chen, a PhD candidate at WPI, and worked with Sankha Bhowmick, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.

Here is a quote from Mallick. "Asphalt has a lot of advantages as a solar collector. For one, blacktop stays hot and could continue to generate energy after the sun goes down, unlike traditional solar-electric cells. In addition, there is already a massive acreage of installed roads and parking lots that could be retrofitted for energy generation, so there is no need to find additional land for solar farms. Roads and lots are typically resurfaced every 10 to 12 years and the retrofit could be built into that cycle. Extracting heat from asphalt could cool it, reducing the urban ‘heat island’ effect. Finally, unlike roof-top solar arrays, which some find unattractive, the solar collectors in roads and parking lots would be invisible."

Of course, it looks like a good idea. But how does this work? "In the lab, small slabs were exposed to halogen lamps, simulating sunlight. Larger slabs were set up outdoors and exposed to more realistic environmental conditions, including direct sunlight and wind. The tests showed that asphalt absorbs a considerable amount of heat and that the highest temperatures are found a few centimeters below the surface. This is where a heat exchanger would be located to extract the maximum amount of energy. Experimenting with various asphalt compositions, they found that the addition of highly conductive aggregates, like quartzite, can significantly increase heat absorption, as can the application of a special paint that reduces reflection."

The research team thinks that turning asphalt into an energy collector is a very simple process which just implies to replace "the copper pipes used in the tests with a specially designed, highly efficient heat exchanger."

Here is Mallick's conclusion. "Our preliminary results provide a promising proof of concept for what could be a very important future source of renewable, pollution-free energy for our nation. And it has been there all along, right under our feet."

This research work will be presented on August 19, 2008, during a conference organized by the International Society for Asphalt Pavements (ISAP). The International ISAP Symposium on Asphalt Pavements and Environment will be held on August 18-20, 2008 in Zurich, Switzerland. Here is a link to the technical program (PDF format, 12 pages, 182 KB). The WPI researchers will present a paper called "Capturing solar energy from asphalt pavements" during the session 5a named "Energy Saving and Production."

Sources: Worcester Polytechnic Institute news release, August 11, 2008; and various websites

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26 comments
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  • Demand Meets Supply

    We need more electricity for the subdivision we built.

    Quick, throw up another parking lot.

    That will mean more cars, more homes.

    Quick, throw up another parking lot.

    ...

    ...
    jabailo1
    • Right

      Because we all know that parking lots and roads breed
      automobiles through spontaneous generation.
      frgough
    • RE: Capturing solar energy from asphalt pavements

      Thanks for the heads up! :) <a href="http://www.replicawatchesbest.org">swiss replica watches</a>
      meimeili
  • RE: Capturing solar energy from asphalt pavements

    I have been trying to get people interested in this for a couple of years. I also think that south exposure walls of sky scrapers, and other buildings should be utilized to capture heat, sunlight, etc. for enery production. There are huge volumes of mass, thus huge collection areas and storage areas if utilized. In future construction fluids could be circulated through a series of pipes in that mass to capture heat to create electricity. IT IS ABOUT TIME WE START USING OUR HEADS.
    John2196
    • Remember Thermosiphoning Air Panels?

      Another great idea that never took off. There are a lot of 5% solutions that cost very little to do that could make a big difference.
      rpwillia
    • Yes

      A new perspective a new aesthetic of energy for architecture? The engineering is falling into a HVAC rut.A school of engineering and architecture? A new ascetic and school.
      Altotus
  • RE: Capturing solar energy from asphalt pavements

    Quite impressive and the average driveway could probably generate enough electricity to power at least part of the average size home, coupled with roof top solar collectors and most homes could have sustainable power without the grid.
    jfp
  • Ever hear of a pot hole?

    They're real common up here in Massachusetts. Generally, all it takes is one winter for a brand new road to get pot holes. They're produced by water getting into the roadway and freezing which breaks up the roadway causing a hole.

    So let's extend that to a road with pipes. Hmmmmmm. And I expect those pipes would be filled with glycol. Now there's an environmental disaster of epic proportions.

    I suppose if this technology were used in an area that didn't freeze, you might get it to work, but between the costs of the plumbing, the heat exchangers, and the electricity needed to run the pumps and heat exchangers, I imagine this technology will not be cost effective even in warm climates.
    Takalok
    • Of course it isn't

      If it was cost effective, someone would already be doing it and
      making lots of money.

      Basic rule of economics: any business which requires taxpayer
      subsidies to stay afloat is not viable.
      frgough
      • ....

        That's funny... because the oil industry is heavily subsidized by taxpayers via the government and they seem to be staying afloat just fine. ]:)
        Linux User 147560
    • Not nessarly as bad as all that

      Not as you envision it certainly. Working fluid for heat exchange can be a gas. And potholes may have something to do with quality and materials of the surfacing.
      Altotus
  • Summary

    Asphalt gets hot. We can put pipes or something in there to
    extract the heat. Voila energy problem solved. Engineering
    details? Don't bother us with engineering details, we're busy
    saving the planet.
    frgough
    • ....

      You can't even formulate a legitimate argument on this one! If you had actually read the article you would have noticed that they are working on the details. Anything that is positive and shows progress away from oil sure causes your IQ to drop rapidly! ]:)
      Linux User 147560
  • How much will it cost?

    Sounds good in theory, but how much will it cost?

    Better yet, can it recover enough energy quickly enough to make up the extra cost of putting it in?

    And who will take this idea to their local government?
    CobraA1
  • How much energy can you collect from a snow covered road?

    nt
    jimbo2
    • ....

      Not everyone lives in a snow belt. And eventually roads are cleared. One other thing, asphalt roads seem to melt snow faster than concrete, could be something to do with the heat they retain. Also keep in mind that heat is generated by friction from vehicles moving over the road. I think this will be a non-issue once the final design is out there. ]:)
      Linux User 147560
    • How much solar energy can you collect on a cloudy day?

      Your question was retarded.
      alexDaPez
  • What does this mean for Global Warming?

    Sounds novel, but if the net effect is that it is heating the air flowing over the roads surface then this sounds like it could exasperate the problem of global warming. Now, it may very well reduce emissions for the total percentage of power produced. And thats positive...especially if it replaces existing polluting power sources. But how aggressive are we going to be in decommissioning those polluter. I have my doubts.

    Another issue with hotter roads..tires. Will they hold up & have the same life span?

    Frankly I'd like to see less pavement in our cities and more green.
    USArcher
    • Perspective for thermal usage

      60 % of energy bused is for heating if that is electric energy (40% from the thermal generating facility 100% at usage point) or from natural gas (80% at usage point) it can cut usage in half or better.
      Altotus
  • RE: Capturing solar energy from asphalt pavements

    The excess energy in urban areas can be captured and converted to electricity using the Atmospheric Vortex Engine without having to dig up the streets. (ref: http://vortexengine.ca)
    ave_fan