Adieu Gas Stations. Road Chargers are Here

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Imagine a time when you can travel thousands of miles in your car without ever needing to stop to refuel. This is no dream of a future at 2050 but something that’s already come into existence and is being put through a heavy stress test.

Britain has been testing a road infrastructure project that can charge electric vehicles while they are in motion. Pretty cool isn’t it! So where’s the “solar” in it? Well, I recently learnt of a road construction project that harnesses solar energy. So just imagine a marriage of the two – solar-powered roadways and vehicles charging on the go!

If roads can generate enough electric power from solar energy to charge vehicles running over them, then gas stations can soon become a thing of the past.  Of course, reality is not that simple and utopian as imagination is, but it does not stop the patent analyst in me to explore the possibility of such a future in the patent world.

Since the invention of the wheel, we humans have centered our entire lives around this invention. This translates into the manner in which we design our cities, towns and villages. The global road network measures upwards of a cumulative 64,285,009 km driving economy and society for generations. Imagine converting this large road network into a battery that captures solar and other forms of energy such as wind or thermal, and charge vehicles on the go. In other words, the idea here is, the already vast road network can itself work as a solar farm and generate energy to drive our cars.

A number of inventors are working in this direction and have come up with remarkable solutions.  Amazing inventors at Solar Roadways Incorporated have designed a hexagonal road block with solar panels that can capture solar energy, while they are strong enough to bear the weight of heavy motor vehicles. These blocks come with LED’s to light the way in the dark, besides including a host of other technologies such as road defrosting and communication. These technologies are well described in two patents – US8907202, USD712822.

There are several companies around the world that are researching on parking lot canopies as a source of renewable energy that can be directed to the grid. While South Korea is experimenting with solar panel covered bike lanes, patent US2008150286 describes an array of roadside vertical wind and solar power generators that can generate clean power. WO2002010654 describes a fluid based heat transfer system that can capture surface heat on a pavement for generating energy. US7550860, describes a system to generate electricity from moving vehicles via mechanical or wind energy tapping means along with solar panels on the side of the road.US2012204925, describes tree shaped solar panels lined on the sides of the road to capture solar energy. US2005199282, describes a trafficable surface which is lined with solar energy collection system protected by a hard translucent surface.

Top: A perspective view of two rows of artificial palm trees that consist of solar arrays positioned on opposite sides of a street (Patent US2012204925). Above: Perspective views of photovoltaic-embedded roadway surfaces having a mixture of photovoltaic-incorporating and non-photovoltaic-incorporating surfaces (Patent US2005199282).

Top: A perspective view of two rows of artificial palm trees that consist of solar arrays positioned on opposite sides of a street (Patent US2012204925).
Above: Perspective views of photovoltaic-embedded roadway surfaces having a mixture of photovoltaic-incorporating and non-photovoltaic-incorporating surfaces (Patent US2005199282).

Incredible times powered by the Sun

These are incredible times with electric vehicles getting better. Tapping energy right where it is needed can have incredible possibilities for using solar roads not only as paths to drive electric vehicles but also by charging these electric vehicles on the go in several other ways too. For instance, patent US2009045773 describes a system of charging electric vehicles wirelessly with magnetic induction or infrared laser systems embedded in the road surface. Patent US20110254503 speaks of another wireless charging system that utilizes magnetic induction to charge a vehicle, while a patent in the European Patent Office, EP2730451 and another US Patent US20120326523 explain methods to improve efficiency of wireless power transfer in moving vehicles.

It is not a time very distant when we will begin to drive over solar powered roads. This does seem like a greener future coming our way, while humans adopt a smarter way to commute. The technology to realize this vision is available on hand. However, as Morpheus said in the Matrix, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. What we need now is for automobile manufacturers to realize this vision of a clean transportation system that will power itself.

(Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/en/stelae-road-night-lights-clouds-1233917/)

Aditya Kochhar
Aditya Kochhar

Neo technologies in automobile and biomedical engineering are sure to find a place in Aditya’s tech insights. A writer by passion and an experimenter by hobby, this IP expert offers interesting tidbits in his blogs.


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