Walk barefoot on an asphalt road and you’ll soon realize how good the substance is at storing solar heat – the heat-storing qualities of roadways has even been put forward as an explanation as to why cities tend to be warmer than surrounding rural areas.
Not content to see all that heat going to waste, researchers from the University of Rhode Island (URI) want to put it to use in a system that harvests solar heat from the road to melt ice, heat buildings, or to create electricity.
“We have mile after mile of asphalt pavement around the country, and in the summer it absorbs a great deal of heat, warming the roads up to 140 degrees or more,” said Prof. K. Wayne Lee, leader of the URI project. “If we can harvest that heat, we can use it for our daily use, save on fossil fuels, and reduce global warming.”
The research team has four main ideas for how that harvesting could be performed.
Cells on barriers
A relatively simple method of harnessing the sunlight shining on the road, if not the heat stored in it, is to wrap flexible photovoltaic cells around the top of the Jersey barriers on divided highways (Jersey barriers are those long rectangular concrete slabs). These cells could also be embedded in the asphalt between the barriers and the adjacent rumble strips. The electricity generated by the cells could be used to power streetlights and illuminate road signs.