Are you tired of congested, dangerous roads and the associated environmental pollution that comes with them? In conjunction with car companies, traffic engineers and research facilities have been working to come up with answers that are cost-effective and viable, and electric roadways offer a solution. Not only do high-tech roads figure prominently in the field of transportation logistics, they may also help make alternative and hybrid vehicles a more attractive, affordable and wide-spread transportation option for consumers outside of urban settings.
Three separate alternative roadways are now undergoing real-world testing: an electronic highway that allows trucks to use a hybrid wired system similar to trams or trolleys is now experiencing its first trail in Sweden, electromagnetic highways that recharge electronic cars as they drive are being implemented in England and a series of solar-powered expressways have been installed in France. Each of these road systems seeks to solve a unique transportation issue, and all of them may be headed to a highway near you in the not-too-distant future.
The two electric highways in the testing phase right now tackle the problems of carbon emissions in different ways. The eHighway in Sweden extends along a short stretch of the E16 highway system, and allows truckers to use a hybrid diesel engine in conjunction with a folding pantograph mechanism to engage and disengage with the framework according to traffic conditions. The energy produced by braking is then fed back into the grid, making it self-sustaining and efficient.
The highway undergoing a road trial in England was first introduced in Korea in 2013. These roads power electric cars through a system of buried electric cables that emit electromagnetic charges, which are picked up by wireless technology in equipped vehicles. This allows drivers to recharge their vehicles as they drive down the highway, eliminating the need for charging stations while improving speed and travel capacity.
The technology behind solar highways was first put to practical use in the Netherlands in 2014 with the installation of a 230-foot solar bike path. France is taking that to the next level with the construction of a 621-mile ‘Wattway’ that will have the ability to provide power to an estimated 5,000 people. The technology uses photovoltaic cells that are installed over existing roads in a formation similar to floor tiles. They’re durable enough to handle a fully loaded semi, and they provide similar traction to asphalt.
The idea is to cut down on road maintenance while feeding the power grid, since the polycrystalline silicon layer is virtually indestructible and impervious to weathering. The panels take the sunlight that roadways are constantly subjected to and converts it to clean, renewable energy that’s then fed to smart-grids to provide electricity to local communities. This technology also makes roads safer by providing solar-powered lighting systems to guide traffic in any level of visibility and using embedded coils to melt snow and ice.
The future of transportation and mobility is looking bright. Not only do these innovations aim to end our dependence on fossil fuels and decrease carbon emissions, they’ll also help cut costs for consumers, transportation companies and municipalities as the technology proliferates. Perhaps soon we’ll arrive in an era of congestion-free, inexpensive ‘ground’ travel as we tool around effortlessly in our Jetson-style hovercraft.