At one point or another in our lives, we’ve run out of gas. We find ourselves sitting on the side of the road, kicking ourselves for not putting that extra $5 in when we stopped last time. Maybe you call AAA, maybe you call a friend to bring you gas, or maybe you set out on foot in search of a gas station. But what happens when there’s no gas station to go to? What happens when your car runs out of gas for the last time?
It’s so easy for us to think, “by the time that happens the world will have technology that makes it so we don’t even need gas. There are electric cars already, aren’t there?”. It’s true, there are electric cars, though the fact that they can only drive about 125 miles per charge puts a lot of people off to them. That coupled with the time it can take them to charge just makes them seem unreasonable. So we don’t blame you, right now gas-powered cars are the most viable option.
But how close are we to that next step? Well, we’re probably a lot closer than you think. Back in August 2009, Solar Roadways recieved a $100,000 small business innovaitve reasearch grant from the USDOT. (United States Department of Transportation) This first phase of their operation consisted of crude prototypes, experiments, testing, and further concept development.
The general idea was to create a material that you could pave roads and sidewalks with, a solar material that absorbed energy and transferred it to electric cars as they drove on it. This means longer trips and less charging- the two objections we previously listed.
In June 2010, YERT (Your Environmental Road Trip) released a video called “The Prototype” as a part of their documentary about finding solutions to global warming. This level of exposure peaked interest, bringing in more donations and allowing for further development. They went on to receive $50,000 in funding from GE’s ecomagination contest, all the while gaining more support from individuals across the world, both financially and emotionally.
In July of 2011, they were awarded a Phase II grant from the USDOT for $750,000. With this budget, they were able to fine-tune their research and experiments and within three years successfully created the world’s first solar parking lot. The world reacted positively- a good sign that we are indeed ready for this level of tech. The parking lot even got them named one of the top innovations of 2014 by Popular Science.
After exhausting their Phase II funding, Solar Roadways was at a block. They weren’t ready for mass production just yet, but were not ready to abandon the project. They took to a source that most budding entrepreneurs utilize- Idegogo. Donations were slow until one volunteer made a video that went viral, one that I remember watching (and you might too)- a video titled “SOLAR-FREAKIN’-ROADWAYS”. This video brought another wave of media attention, and thus funding. Their amout raised was more than double their goal, with the final count coming in as $2,200,591.00. This also came with an invitation to the White House’s first annual Maker’s Faire and later Solar Roadways was also mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union presentation on the White House website. They ALSO were selected by Indegogo as the one campaign they spoke about at their annual meeting, and even made a short documentary.
Solar Roadways continued on Valtine’s day 2015 by creating an Indegogo OnDemand, a crowdfunding campaign that is ongoing with no end date. The same day, they were featured on the show Innovative Nation with Mo Rocca.
In November of 2015, Solar Roadways was awarded another 2-year $750,000 Phase IIB grant from USDOT to continue their research. The research they are currently conducting includes: freeze-thaw cycling, moisture conditioning, shear testing, and advanced loading (simulates several years of heavy truck abuse in a matter of months). You can donate to Solar Roadways here – they offer some pretty awesome perks for donations!
The completion and implication of this project would mean so much for our planet. It seems unattainable to convert all of our roads to solar roads right? Well, we wouldn’t have to. Because they are designed to charge electric cars, and cars are capable of driving approximately 125 miles per charge, it is feasible to convert roads slowly, perhaps starting with a 30-minute stretch of solar roadways every 50-100 miles.
Imagine never having to get gas again.