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Get off your asphalt!
September 23, 2010 10:26 AM   Subscribe

"I don't believe we're going to have the ability to build asphalt roads in 50 years."
posted by kinnakeet (121 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Inspiring to see them incorporate so many positive ideas in one project; fingers crossed that this idea gains traction. (Which would be my biggest concern - how is it possible to make a non-slippery glass surface that still gives good traction when wet?)
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:35 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Warning: autoplaying flash video link. Essentially a SL(not exactly)YT.
posted by Dysk at 10:36 AM on September 23, 2010


Fascinating stuff.

Not to be a negative nancy, but how do they plan to accomodate for thermal expansion/contraction, ground settlement, etc?

Also, how about we just replace cars/roads with PRT? That'd be really innovative, save tons of energy, and we could easily build some solar panels along the guideway.
posted by schmod at 10:38 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


More to the point, how is it possible to build a complex and energy-intensive glass and photovoltaic cell road system with less fossil fuel energy than is in an asphalt road?
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:41 AM on September 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


Americans will never give up their cars, most likely, schmod.

That video is really awesome but it will never catch on and so it ends up depressing.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 10:42 AM on September 23, 2010


"I don't believe we're going to have the ability to NOT build asphalt roads in 50 years."

FTFY
posted by blue_beetle at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is positively brilliant. I also love the concept of 'schematic' at both micro and macro levels of my future life.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2010


I love the idea. I hope Big Oil doesn't have him sleeping with the fishes too soon.
posted by weezy at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2010


Hard to see how these nuts got funding. I don't think his 50 years figure is based in reality. Asphalt can be recycled and there doesn't seem to be a real shortage of the heavy crude and tar that goes into making it. Will a road made of solar panels (which let's remember here are giant semiconductors) with embedded LED lights running 24 hours a day ever actually pay for itself? Any government building such a road would be bankrupt well before it produced any electricity. Is the "hermetically sealed" plastic covering going to withstand 4-ton trucks driving over it continuously? What kind of horrible Big Brother system would be required to protect a road system that is worth hundreds of dollars per square yard from thieves?
posted by Locobot at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


@fmulvetr, I believe the idea is to make the road pay for itself. If the solar power from the road is used to power homes and businesses for a nice long time, say a few years, then in the end the fossil fuel use should come way down. The real questions are 1) can they solve all the technical problems (glare, traction, power distribution, etc)?, and 2) can they keep the up-front cost low enough to even consider installing one?
posted by rouftop at 10:48 AM on September 23, 2010


Hasn't this company been pushing this for a couple of years? Cynical me calls vaporware. It's awesome vaporware that I want right now, but I suspect it's a dream right now.

Anyway - They should scale this back a bit, push it more towards companies that have huge carparks. That way, they've got less wear on an immature product, no need to worry so much about energy infrastructure & more time / money to get the product working right at a good price.
posted by seanyboy at 10:48 AM on September 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


As someone who lives in the snow belt where ice and snow cover the roads for much of the winter and salt use is heavy and frequent, I had questions about viability. And fimbulvetr raises an important point as well.

But it's nice to dream.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:50 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


fimbulvetr, the power generated would pay for the increase in cost, in theory.

This is one hell of an idea, if it could work. I believe it will be a long time before it can work.

The power the roads generate could also be used add energy to the vehicles too.
posted by notsnot at 10:50 AM on September 23, 2010


What kind of horrible Big Brother system would be required to protect a road system that is worth hundreds of dollars per square yard from thieves?

Good locks.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:55 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's awesome vaporware that I want right now, but I suspect it's a dream right now.

It's undoubtedly a dream right now - this is in no way presenting solar roadways as a product that's ready to be deployed. More science and engineering needs to be done and the cost of solar panels vs. asphalt has to shift further. This is never going to be highways across North America (because if we can't afford to build those out of asphalt we can't afford to drive on them either) but in the design of the future city it may be extremely valuable.
posted by mek at 10:55 AM on September 23, 2010


I'm not at all surprised that fimbulvetr wouldn't want to rely on something solar-powered.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


As long as we are in fantasy land, why don't they just do away with roads and give everybody really awesome jetpacks instead?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't believe I'm going to have the ability to view a video of what could most likely be presented in text form.
posted by rocket88 at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ditto for snow and ice. i imagine that the solar cells would be able to power some sort of heating element which would keep the roads ice-free.
posted by jadayne at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2010


less fossil fuel energy than is in an asphalt road?

How much fossil fuel is in an asphalt road? What's the lifespan of an asphalt road vs a glass road? How much fossil fuel is used to create the glass road? How much fossil fuels do the glass roads offset by generating solar power? These are good questions, but complex, someone will have to do the calculations. My guess is the solar glass road will be carbon negative since it generates electricity.
posted by stbalbach at 10:58 AM on September 23, 2010


No, no, no. Don't you see? There will never be any viable energy solutions at all, nor should there be. Oil and gas are the only realistic sources of energy that have or will ever exist and if you don't see that, you're an idealistic hippy, ignoramus, fool, or just high on the drugs. Obviously this is and will always be true. And you're instantly a fool or a communist for even momentarily entertaining other ideas.

--The MGMT

/hamburger.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:58 AM on September 23, 2010 [13 favorites]


Suspected that I'd heard of it before. (Article from August 2007) *sigh*
posted by seanyboy at 10:58 AM on September 23, 2010


The above comments raise many valid technical objections to this idea. I think that it would be only slightly less realistic to claim that in 50 years we won't actually need roads because we will just download our minds into computers and be transmitted over the internet so that we won't have to actually go anywhere in person.
posted by grizzled at 10:59 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Will a road made of solar panels (which let's remember here are giant semiconductors) with embedded LED lights running 24 hours a day ever actually pay for itself? ...
Is the "hermetically sealed" plastic covering going to withstand 4-ton trucks driving over it continuously? What kind of horrible Big Brother system would be required to protect a road system that is worth hundreds of dollars per square yard from thieves?


If solar panels pay for themselves now, why not when produced in such a manner to take advantage of huge economy of scale? The LEDs can be activated anywhere, but it's not going to be fully lit up. Heck, for roads that are seldom used, they could use sensors to only light up the sections that are in use!

Watching the video, they say glass can be as strong as steel. Certainly in large, road-scale measures, glass is plenty durable. Think of those (absolutely frightening) all-glass overhangs we've seen on some buildings. Sturdy as fuck.

Who'd steal them? More importantly, how would they pawn them off? It's not like we're talking about paving with pure copper wiring; you'd have to extricate a massive, heavy, plastic-and-glass-encased piece of specialty electronics. Stealing the road plates is about as likely as someone stealing highway lamp-posts now.
posted by explosion at 10:59 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's one thing to make it durable enough to drive on. It's another battle altogether to make it impact prove from wrecks, and maintain a transparent surface from all the rubbing and scuffing that so many vehicles will cause.

I'd love to see it installed in some small tests in high-Sun areas like Arizona and southern California.

Good luck to them! They have a huge challenge but potentially great payoff.
posted by LoudMusic at 11:00 AM on September 23, 2010


So if this is maintenance intensive, it'll be best installed in municipalities that have resources to maintain it, and yet that's the area where the solar path to the roadway will be most obstructed by traffic and buildings. I can see this as a possibility, but they've got a lot of problems to solve.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:01 AM on September 23, 2010


Why is it that the idea of digging a tunnel down one mile under the ocean, then drilling an additional three miles under the crust of the earth to get at some really old stored solar energy deep within the earth's crust seems to so many people like a "realistic" and "practical" method of energy production, while ideas that are so much less crazy, over-engineered and far-fetched just on their face, like this one, are mocked to death instantly as obviously outside the realm of human possibility?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:02 AM on September 23, 2010 [43 favorites]


The beauty of a "great" PRT system is that you could presumably own your own vehicle, and drive it "off-track," thus preserving the perceived freedom of owning an automobile.

That said, America is fucked if Peak Oil turns out to be real. There is indeed no way you can get Americans to give up their cars, because there's no way our infrastructure will ever be able to handle it without abandoning a considerable fraction of our cities. NYC is the only US city, where it's reasonable to assume that 95% of the population could live without a car without substantially impacting their quality of life.
posted by schmod at 11:04 AM on September 23, 2010


Locobot...I suspect those "nuts" got the funding in order to try to work-out exactly the questions you fling-down as if they were unsolvable or inviolate certainties. That's sort of what research funding is for.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:05 AM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


NYC is the only US city, where it's reasonable to assume that 95% of the population could live without a car without substantially impacting their quality of life.

I'm pretty sure that Portland, OR and San Francisco both are completely livable without a car. I have friends who live in both cities who don't own them, and they never seem to feel the lack. There may be others, but those are the only ones I have personal experience with and know people who live in without owning automobiles.
posted by hippybear at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2010


I don't mean to be cliché, but a dude walked on the moon already. We can do this. Start it in a small, sunny test city...just a street running on its own power. Expand and solve the problems as you go.

I personally love all the win-wins that could come out of this...recycling, energy, safety improvements, creative new ideas being tried and implements (who knows what this could lead to?!) and jobs. There are a lot of hard-working, smart people would would be willing to make this happen, from the labor demands to the problem-solving feats that must be conquered. And they'll do it despite what the everlasting cynical tirade has to say. If given the chance.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:10 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wet traction could be improved by having channels engraved in the glass, but the main issue seems to be settlement. How many perfectly flat roads have you driven over recently? At least asphalt degrades relatively nicely and can be easily patched.
posted by zeoslap at 11:13 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stealing the road plates is about as likely as someone stealing highway lamp-posts now.

I can't agree with that. The road plates would have a lot more utility than a lamp post. On the other hand, it probably would be rather difficult to get away with--there are lots of technical solutions available (GPS and cell transmitter in every block?).


There are a lot of niggling technical details that are the real make or break here. Traction on new surface is easily solved, but what about the wear life of the traction enhancing surface treatment. And how about the amount of lost generating capacity caused by that surface. And the loss of generating capacity caused by 15 years of scratches.

Cool idea though. It could happen one day.
posted by Chuckles at 11:16 AM on September 23, 2010


If we keep electing these Tea Party people, the only roads we're going to have 50 years from now will be made of DIRT.
posted by briank at 11:18 AM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't really doubt that it's possible. I question whether it's viable as a practical alternative to what we're doing right now, or if it's even a good idea as a road surface.

Even if petroleum becomes expensive, there are other things you can make roads out of. Concrete, for instance. And of course you can always recycle asphalt; you really just need to reheat it, which you could do using any number of energy sources. Or we could go back to using cut stone slabs. Or packed earth / crushed stone held down with some sort of organic glue instead of oil. Asphalt was chosen as a road surface over lots of other options because it has generally been cheaper than the alternatives for what you get. There are a lot of other solutions that are a lot simpler than the apparent technical challenges involved in making a solar panel that will work as a road surface.

Putting solar panels alongside roads in the wasted space of the rights-of-way, and perhaps even taking advantage of the wind produced by passing vehicles to keep the panels clean, seems like a much easier solution than making the road itself out of PV material. Heck, even putting panels above roads—if you could make them light enough and did it in areas without high snow loads—seems more practical.

If you want to visualize what the world will look like 'after oil' (which really means 'when oil becomes really expensive so we have to stop wasting it quite so extravagantly'), I think the easiest way is just to look back at when oil was very expensive, with maybe a small helping of modern technology that isn't oil-dependent. But it's my feeling that as we move away from oil, the tendency is going to be towards regression back to non-oil-dependent but tried and true technologies rather than new and untried ones.

Incidentally, I see no future that doesn't involve burning a shitload of coal.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:19 AM on September 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


Oh, oh. Here's another idea . . . what if your vehicle was automatically guided by the light on the roadways? You'd plug in your destination on a gps and your vehicle would communicate with the road to find the best way to get you there – hands free. Oh, and what if shipping was optimized with unmanned convoys of trucks dedicated to a special solar lane on the interstates? Oh, and what if the bottom of your vehicle was equipped with a sweeper to help maintain the roads for optimal solar input? I love stuff like this.
posted by quadog at 11:20 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


GPS and cell transmitter in every block?

You're joking, right?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:20 AM on September 23, 2010


Hard to see how these nuts got funding . . . Cynical me calls vaporware. . . I had questions about viability . . . But it's nice to dream . . .As long as we are in fantasy land

Boy, sure am glad I wandered in here after viewing the video. Because all I was thinking was: Holy shit that's cool, it addresses so many huge problems simultaneously, who the hell knows if it'll ever find widespread application in this form but this is exactly the kind of can-do inventive entrepreneurship that's gonna get us past fossil fuels, it's sort of like how the space race gave us the internet a generation later.

Whereas now I realize if the guy almost literally working out of his garage on this out of a passion for the planet and building shit to fix it can't be built everywhere right now and address every single possible technical and climatic challenge it might one day encounter, I should just cock my eye skeptically and simply sneer.

Incidentally, I see no future that doesn't involve burning a shitload of coal.

Sounds like someone's angling for a communications job at the DOE!
posted by gompa at 11:21 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've often wondered why we couldn't just run a network of flexible tubes pumped full of water embedded in blacktop to capture the heat energy through a solar-thermal system. It seems to me that would involve fewer of the more difficult engineering problems to implement, but it's not my area of expertise, so there may be other factors that make that approach impractical.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:21 AM on September 23, 2010


See also: the dance floor from Saturday Night Fever.
posted by Ratio at 11:21 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Solar panels pay for themselves with government subsidy and about 20 years of electricity production. Solar panels which pay for themselves aren't being driven on or being used to power embedded LEDs (let alone heating coils to melt snow).

It's not like we're talking about paving with pure copper wiring;

That's true were talking about paving with semiconductors sandwiched in glass and plastic which would be much much more valuable than copper wiring. People were bringing in sewer caps for scrap sale a few years ago when commodity prices were high... And wait a second, what is that plastic made of again?

If you're wondering how people might extricate the panels you might want to familiarize yourself with Stihl's product line. Anyways aren't these things going to be accessible somehow for repairs?
posted by Locobot at 11:22 AM on September 23, 2010


Simply brilliant.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on September 23, 2010


You know how post-apocalyptic fantasy/scifi novels always have some kind of "Roads of the Ancients" that are sort of magical and powerful and keep on functioning long after the Ancients fell apart?

Yeah.
posted by gurple at 11:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


Locobot: "Asphalt can be recycled and there doesn't seem to be a real shortage of the heavy crude and tar that goes into making it.

According to this report, the eco-burden reductions aren't large, and mostly have to do with the reduced hauling. In fact, one recycling method actually makes for more of an eco-burden over time: "On the contrary, Glassphalt increases the eco-burden by 19%..."

As for the shortage: of course there isn't, but it all comes from the same source. We know that one is coming.


Will a road made of solar panels (which let's remember here are giant semiconductors) with embedded LED lights running 24 hours a day ever actually pay for itself?

They don't run all day, only when activated. And I'm pretty sure the LED-equipped panels are only for the areas they want lit up; it wouldn't be hard to make panels that route the energy to the grid. And that's what would generate the electricity to pay for the road.


Any government building such a road would be bankrupt well before it produced any electricity.

Prognosticate much? What numbers do you base this on, when none are provided? What reason do you have to be so definitively negative about something in the research phase?


Is the "hermetically sealed" plastic covering going to withstand 4-ton trucks driving over it continuously?

Who knows? I'm sure they'll do all kinds of testing on it; as one of the people in the video said, materials science is an amazing thing. If they've already made glass as strong as steel then yes, I think eventually it will. Same question as before - why so serious?


What kind of horrible Big Brother system would be required to protect a road system that is worth hundreds of dollars per square yard from thieves?"

This assumes that they don't have ways of binding the top glass and solar parts to the bottom - pretty silly to think that they'd make a road which is easily taken apart.


To sum up: what kind of horrible thought system would require churning out this much hyperbole in order to crap on ideas for positive change? Eponypropriate.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Ditto for snow and ice. i imagine that the solar cells would be able to power some sort of heating element which would keep the roads ice-free."

Probably not as the sun isn't doing this now and asphalt is a decent collector. Running the available energy through the middleman of solar collectors is unlikely to make a difference in anything but edge cases.
posted by Mitheral at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This idea is awesome and needs to happen, even if only at smaller scales in urban environments. Blacktop/asphalt is a huge issue w/ waste heat and leads to the "heat island" effect people experience in big cities. It's a lot of wasted heat and energy.

Besides powering homes, this could power electric cars, trucks and buses. Not only could the road pay for itself, it can provide energy for the transportation as well.

Yeah, it's going to take more fossil fuels to build out then asphalt, but probably not that much more. In fact, considering the quantity of asphalt required to build roads, it might be less. In either case it's a short term cost. Ideally these road panels would be less likely to degrade then plain asphalt on graded roadbeds, so the roads would last longer. After the initial investment they begin to pay for themselves for a long, long time.

This is one of the main things I don't get about modern self-described "conservatives". Things like solar power and electric cars are *very* fiscally conservative - yet they're wrongly framed as some kind of enemy. It's as much as an investment in infrastructure - if not more - as giant coal fired power plants and steel mills. The sheer amount of power in measured in megawatts from a project like this is astounding. They should be all over this insanely high powered technology, but it seems that all that these people can think of is 70s era Jimmy Carter, solar panels on the White House and crap like that and... just it's so wrongheaded and short sighted.

A common counterargument is "But I want the freedom to go wherever I want, which is what I get with a tankful of gas!" - which is also wrong and shortsighted, because it's disregarding the huge infrastructure required to obtain, process and distribute gasoline and other fuels. That system is fragile, even without the possibility of running out of affordable crude oil. You can't actually roam very far from a fuel service station. It's not that much farther then you can go on batteries. And if you had solar roadbeds, suddenly anywhere where there's a road there's a fueling station, so the range of battery powered cars is vastly extended. You could road trip to your favorite mountain retreats and top up the batteries in your car or truck before leaving the roadbed and possibly go even farther then you could from the last nearest fuel station before heading to the wilderness.

I think part of this is a marketing, imaging and framing problem. Electricity, solar and electric cars is wrongly seen as "wimpy" hippy dippy crap, yet the biggest dump trucks in the world use hybrid diesel-electric drive trains, and they often run on overhead electric trolley lines where available and cut out the diesel portion entirely. Fully battery powered electric drag racers are starting to show up that smoke any big block GM or Ford powerplant.

And there's nothing "wimpy" about having huge amounts of electric power on tap to pour straight into modern electric motors. There's nothing "wimpy" about an Electric Arc Furnace. There's nothing wimpy about megawatts of free power on tap for generations to come. Electricity has been our main usable, transportable currency for decades now. Fuel-powered vehicles are one of the last hold outs, and using it in vehicles doesn't make any more sense then having every home powered by it's own internal combustion engine to generate electricity.

Could you imagine the hassle of having fuel delivered to your home and maintaining an engine to burn it for electricity? It'd make fuel oil furnaces look sane and uncomplicated.

Someone needs to create a demonstration vehicle like a big Ford F-150 truck and show how much more torque and power you could deliver with modern motors and batteries and sex it up. Sure, you have to trade that sexy loud engine roar for the weird whine of a high torque electric motor, but now you can actually hear your burnouts, and the acceleration and power curve of electric vehicles is out of this world.

I'm sure when electric motors (and internal combustion engines) were first invented they looked "wimpy" compared to draft horses, and plenty of people bitched and whined about that, too. "But my horses mean freedom! And power! Those horseless carriage things are wimpy, complicated and underpowered! I'll keep my horses and hay barn!"
posted by loquacious at 11:30 AM on September 23, 2010 [13 favorites]


Surely we would be better off to use the solar power generation technology we have now, rather than trying to think up new ways to make it more difficult and expensive to generate solar power. If solar requires subsidies now, then there is no way that solar designed to withstand trucks driving over it would be even remotely close to paying for itself.

Sure, this is a nifty highdea and might be fun to think about, but that's all it is: entertainment.
posted by ssg at 11:30 AM on September 23, 2010


It doesn't make any sense. The energy input into the manufacture of these roads, not to mention the vast quantities of rare elements to make such an enormous quantity of electronics and solar cells would be staggering compared to laying asphalt, which, as mentioned above, can be recycled. If the reason for switching to this is because we are running out of asphalt (i.e., fossil fuels), then you need to use something that takes much less energy to create. Plus, they would quickly degrade with continuous beating from road traffic and weather, (not to mention winter, salt, sand etc. in my part of the world). How efficient would those solar cells be once the glass prisms above them became scuffed and clouded from traffic? It wouldn't take too long in a heavy traffic area. This is just another pie-in-the-sky, keep the happy motoring lifestyle alive as long as possible pipe dream.

Solar cells are great -- build solar farms. Much more efficient use of resources than solar roads. And if we are running out of fossil fuels to the point where we can't build asphalt roads, you can kiss your automotive lifestyle goodbye at any rate. I'd be far more excited by innovations to get us away from a car and energy intensive system, rather than crazy dreams to convince people we won't have to make serious sacrifices and changes in the near future.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:32 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


You're all missing the point. Feasible? Who knows. Too pricey? Seems likely. Whatever. Here's the point:

If/when Toronto gets these, Nuit Blanche is going to be awesome. I can't wait. I want to go to the top of the CN tower and watch the city wide art display move across the city.

I don't care if it's stong enough. I don't care if it pays for itself. I don't care if it can really power our houses or business or factories. I don't care if it's a million times more expeinsive than asphalt. Just make it happen.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:32 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Snow plows and salt are the enemy of any fancy paving idea.

Why do you think they need to ever replace asphalt in the Northeast?
posted by smackfu at 11:35 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If solar requires subsidies now, then there is no way that solar designed to withstand trucks driving over it would be even remotely close to paying for itself.

You do realize oil and gas too require massive investment and tax subsidies right now? Why doesn't that make them nothing more than entertainment?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:37 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can't actually roam very far from a fuel service station. It's not that much farther then you can go on batteries.

So batteries technology has advanced to give me the 1000 -- 1200 km range that my 6-year old VW diesel Golf has?
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:37 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look I'm all for dreaming, and kudos to them for conning someone into giving them a grant for what is pretty clearly a vanity project. It seems like this would work better with smaller non-LED brick-size units bound together by a more proven roadway material.

Roads can also be built out of concrete (60% of the U.S. interstate system is) which lasts longer than asphalt. We're pretty far from peak gravel as far as I know too.
posted by Locobot at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2010


Driving range. Most EVs can only go about 100–200 miles before recharging—gasoline vehicles can go over 300 miles before refueling.

So, not quite, but getting real close.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2010


I have always remembered a project I did in elementary school, about roads. In particular, I recall the cross-section of Roman-built roads.

(insert "Life of Brian" Roman joke here)

The point being that the extensive engineering and construction labour translated into a road that lasted for centuries, so proposing a new highly-engineered road concept isn't far-fetched, IF it's long-lasting and low-maintenance.

This glass road concept probably isn't practical as a highway paving solution, though I bet it's feasible for special use in dense urban cores for cross-walks, in-road freeway signage, lane markings, etc. Imagine a large public plaza or a mall floor paved with this... cool or what?

BTW, once manufacturing is scaled up, the price per yard of a LED & PV-equipped panel should be under $100 a sq yard (installation & foundation extra). There's nothing that complex in LEDs and PV cells & associated circuitry.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:41 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


on preview, what the penguin said.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:43 AM on September 23, 2010


Yay for dreaming, but here's an idea for a small-scale test of the concept:

Since the top layer asphalt portion of the road is actually fairly thin and fairly cheap (especially when compared to the substructure that deals with a lot of the aforementioned earth motion and stability stuff), the whole notion of using these as road surface is just about lots of cheap real estate, right?

So how about we start with a simpler problem: How about, oh, I don't know, solar panels that go on our roofs, or out in cheap areas of the desert, that generate enough electricity and last long enough to pay for themselves.

Anyone? That'd be a great proof of concept, and once they nailed down that application and that durability then they could start working on things like making the surface work for motor vehicle traffic...

I do love me some science fiction occasionally, though.
posted by straw at 11:48 AM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's that? You don't need roads where you're going? I hate to break the news, but all those shenanigans back in 1955 (the second time, that is) really screwed things up for the invention of the flying car, and now we're dreaming that someday we might have the thrill of a solar paneled road, somewhere. Kids all over the world now dream of this - this wild idea of the future.
posted by yeti at 11:48 AM on September 23, 2010


I guess my point is, if the quote"I don't believe we're going to have the ability to build asphalt roads in 50 years." ends up being accurate, then we won't have the ability to build any kind of road system that requires a massive energy input (beyond the manual kind, like Roman roads), much less the motorised vehicles to drive on them.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:51 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately new green tech often ends up being the enemy of old green tech. The oil companies managed to delay electric cars by a good 10 years by promising us hydrogen fuel cell cars, and the power companies have managed to divert discussion about solar and wind power by promising carbon capture and nuclear fusion. Every time a US city tries to build light rail it ends up spending a few years investigating PRT, even though there isn't a working PRT system in the entire world. I'm all for pure research, but when you're reading about this kind of thing you have to recognize that it's 50 years out and there's a lot of applied work to be done in the meantime.
posted by miyabo at 11:51 AM on September 23, 2010


I don't think there exists a substance which is hard enough to not be scratched into opacity within the first month, and still soft enough to avoid fracturing from the differential pressure and impacts a road receives.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:52 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree that this is a cool idea, but from a practical standpoint, it seems to me that if we're going to replace asphalt with solar cells, the place to start is on our roofs rather than our roads.
posted by nickmark at 11:54 AM on September 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


Transparent Aluminum!
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:56 AM on September 23, 2010


We need to break our dependence on foreign oil. Who has all the oil? The Middle East.

So we come up with roads made of glass. Glass comes from sand. Who has all the sand? The Middle East.


Dammit!
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:57 AM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Seriously, if someone proposed a project like the DeepWater Horizon now, for the first time, as a research project, who here doesn't have to admit that what they were actually doing in reality to produce energy sounds at least as far-fetched, and contains at least as many potential engineering "gotchas," if not more, than this idea?

It's not practical constraints or the limits of engineering that's the problem. It's our lack of imagination and loss of faith in the possibilities of human potential.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:04 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


YouTube: Disney's Magic Highway, 1958.

Of course most of it is just cartoonish fantasy, but it looks like they got a couple of things right, e.g. GPS, updating maps, traffic info, cameras being used in place of rear view mirrors, etc. And we're on the cusp of others like HUD displays, some auto-driving features (big rigs and some luxury cars have auto-breaking features, can alert you when you drift out of your lane, start to nod off, etc.).

And a solar powered road (if it ever happens) might answer the questions on how some of the features would be powered, e.g. to melt snow, dry-off roads, or air condition roadways.
posted by Davenhill at 12:05 PM on September 23, 2010


that are so much less crazy, over-engineered and far-fetched just on their face, like this one, are mocked to death instantly as obviously outside the realm of human possibility?

Carefull you don't trip over that huge hyperbole and faceplant into that shiny-new over-engineered glass road.

I mean, seriously? How is this not over-engineered and far-fetched? There are no considerations for snow, ice, salt, or any of a thousand things that end up on the road. Some roads right now are in bad need of repairs but there isn't enough money or time to do so; so why not replace all of them with some complicated electronics? What could go wrong? I mean, apart from some road accident that ends up cutting power and internet to hundreds of households, because, yeah, having all that infrastructure all interconnected is an incredibly bright idea.
posted by splice at 12:06 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Roads Must Roll.

I am amazed I am the first to add that in this thread.
posted by Goofyy at 12:10 PM on September 23, 2010


I mean, seriously? How is this not over-engineered and far-fetched? There are no considerations for snow, ice, salt, or any of a thousand things that end up on the road.

That's not what "overengineered" means, you know. I didn't say the idea was proven, or flawless, just that it isn't an over-engineered mess that requires untold thousands of interconnected complex systems to make it work the way deep sea drilling does.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:13 PM on September 23, 2010


GPS and cell transmitter in every block? You're joking, right?

Worldwide system of interconnected computers that changes humanity's definition of communication? You're joking, right?

A vaccine to cure AIDS? You're joking, right?

A quasi-autonomous remote controlled airplane that can be managed by a team of pilots and technicians from halfway around the world to kill humans? YES. HERE IS SEVERAL BILLION DOLLARS PLEASE LET US KNOW WHEN YOU FINISH.

See, the issue isn't that Americans aren't ingenious. It's that for the last thirty years we've been unable to do anything novel that doesn't have some military purpose. And when all you have is a hammer...
posted by notion at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seconding what straw said, above. There are many places for solar installations that are available right now, with none of the technical difficulties, and there are many, many technical and operational challenges to something like this.

Using the "wasted space" of roads is a great idea, but the technical challenges aren't worth it now, and it's not likely they ever will be. You'd have to get the efficiency of solar panels waaaaay up to make the cost worth it, and by that time, it wouldn't be necessary to use the roads for solar panels, since they wouldn't take up as much space.

Mount solar panels on roofs - there are acres and acres of roofs going unused.

As far as asphalt goes, it has it's issues, but it's the thing for now and the foreseeable future. Glass takes a huge amount of energy to create, and asphalt is pretty much a waste product from energy production that is already being recycled - into pavement.

Making roads that are great roads that will last for hundreds of years isn't really that great of an idea either. Thousands of civil and traffic engineers make a full time living because we are constantly reconfiguring our roads. Investing a massive capital expense on something we won't want in twenty years is not a good idea. The Roman road paradigm isn't really comparable - traffic quantities and loads didn't change significantly for almost two thousand years after many of those were built.

I don't want to be a wet blanket, but this just doesn't seem to be thought through all that well. As an idea to get the dialog going, or "conceptual blockbusting", it's great though, because it gets us talking about infrastructure and cost issues.
posted by Xoebe at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2010


"having all that infrastructure all interconnected is an incredibly bright idea."

Much of our existing infrastructure already uses the road - it just goes under it, rather than through it. Water, sewage, and gas mains typically go under roads, and in some places electric, phone and cable lines are also buried. Co-location is a growing trend among utilities, but you have to do it carefully. These folks don't address the question of sub-surface maintenance, but access points would be necessary. And when there's an accident - which happens now regularly - is it a good idea to have the whole area be electrified? Should you have to shut down the road when you have a gas leak?

Another thing that's problematic from a practical standpoint is the way they talk about delivering all those services - phone, internet, electricity - through the roadway. The trouble is that very large and very different companies have already invested very very large amounts of money in the existing utility infrastructure, and might not be keen on this idea. You might be able to get them to come around, but it'd take a lot - and it would be different in every single jurisdiction, I'm sure.

I do think it's a neat idea, as I said above, but if you have to do roads instead of roofs (and since their funding comes from DOT, I suppose that's the case), maybe start with parking lots or something.
posted by nickmark at 12:17 PM on September 23, 2010


i can't speak to the technical aspects, or if this is reasonable and financially feasible, or whatever. but sometimes people blow my mind in a really good way.
posted by rainperimeter at 12:20 PM on September 23, 2010


You do realize oil and gas too require massive investment and tax subsidies right now? Why doesn't that make them nothing more than entertainment?

Solar power is not entertainment. "Dude, let's make roads out of solar panels" is entertainment. This is on par with cover stories about jet packs in popular science mags.

I think you may have misunderstand my point.
posted by ssg at 12:24 PM on September 23, 2010


If you live on the Gulf, where researchers have recently been reporting finding a layer of oil around 2 inches deep on the sea floor and where Louisiana is seeing unprecedented fish die offs, you might take a slightly different view of how insurmountable the technical challenges are or how worthwhile the effort is.

I personally helped spread my grandparent's ashes in that Gulf--in waters they and their families had fished and lived on for generations--before the Deepwater Horizon Spill happened. My personal investment in the issues may not be worth a dime in economic terms, but you couldn't pay me enough money to blithely discount the innumerable harmful effects of the industry that buried my grandparent's ashes under a two inch thick layer of petroleum sludge.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:28 PM on September 23, 2010


I think you may have misunderstand my point.

Oh, I get you now. That's probably a fair point. But my main point (and maybe it's not to you) remains: by every metric suggested here so far by those dismissing this idea, the existing, functional energy producing technologies we use today also would not pass muster if proposed for the first time here now on MetaFilter.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:32 PM on September 23, 2010


the existing, functional energy producing technologies we use today also would not pass muster if proposed for the first time here now on MetaFilter.

Oh yeah, that Archimedes was a hack.
posted by hwyengr at 12:39 PM on September 23, 2010


If we keep electing these Tea Party people, the only roads we're going to have 50 years from now will be made of DIRT.

You are not kidding. Back in South Dakota most of the country roads that were asphalt have been torn to shit by overweighted trucks. My parents' Republican friends bitch about the road quality (like everyone). Of course, they just voted down a tax increase to pay for getting them fixed.
posted by graventy at 12:39 PM on September 23, 2010


This would be really good between rails in a revived and expanded national rail system, and they wouldn't have to be load-bearing, sensor-laden, or filled with LEDs, so they'd be cheaper and more reliable.
posted by sonascope at 12:53 PM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


All I can think about is a story my da told me years ago. He had a motorcycle- entirely plated in chrome. It drove beautifully, as a high end machine ought to; the only problem was that you couldn't look down.

I can't imagine solid ribbons of glare would be good. One-way glass maybe? Something with minimal refraction- or can glass/synthetic be designed to act as a one-way trap for light?
posted by LD Feral at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2010


i don't think LEDs use all that much electricity compared to other types of lights. street lights and traffic lights everywhere are being converted over to LEDs due to the money being saved (long-term).
even if only a portion of US roadways were covered (say, the lower 3rd of the US, where snow and ice are less of a problem) we'd still generate enough electricity for the whole country (based on the figures provided in the video).
parking lots, crosswalks and city squares everywhere would look great with these things laid down on them... other pedestrian areas too...walking trails and bike trails and things. who says we have to cover the whole country with them right off the bat ?
maybe the scratches from long-term use could be buffed out periodically by specially equipped street sweepers.
no one has all the answers right now, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to work towards something better here. geez, with some of the attitudes in here, it's no wonder that new, innovative, cool things don't get done...
my wife and i watched this and were really, really excited by these guys' innovation, motivation, and attitude. i wish it were more contagious...
posted by g.i.r. at 1:00 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Um, how we gonna keep the lights on at night? It might not be insurmountable, but these roadways are going to need a way to store lots of electricity, and this should certainly be part of our discussion. I can't find anything about how he plans to store the electricity beyond the line in the video "roads are collecting heat anyways, this thing collects the electricity -- and stores it." I've searched his website and haven't found anything at all about this.
posted by no mind at 1:09 PM on September 23, 2010


The Romans built roads that are still in use today. These things would be our Roman roads - glass would be far less susceptible to wear than blacktop, and he's already figured out a stable long-term substrate made from, essentially, recycled household garbage that will hold up to frost heaves and subsidence.

You only need to build this kind of road once, and maybe repair a panel or two over a ten year period.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:09 PM on September 23, 2010


The entire premise of this locomotive craze is complete and utter horsepucky. Why, learned men have scientifically proven that the human body cannot travel at speeds over 20 miles per hour for extended periods! Your bones will explode!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:14 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


If the Romans had 40 ton semis on their roads, they wouldn't have lasted quite as long.

The wear on a pavement from weight is exponential. If we only had cars and carts on our roads, they'd never wear out either.
posted by hwyengr at 1:19 PM on September 23, 2010


From the title of this link, I thought it would be about the preparations for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:44 PM on September 23, 2010


I'm an entrepreneur. I work in solar, specifically I work on the glass that covers solar - trying to make it better. I love entrepreneurs, especially ones trying to invent new ways to solve really big problems like energy. I'm also an engineer and I still perhaps naively buy into the idea that there are technological answers to many of the problems that were in large part caused by technology. Really we just need more of it!

That said, while I'll congratulate the guy on actually doing something and putting his time & I'm sure his treasure into his dream, he is completely and utterly wrong. This is a dumb idea on many levels.

For example, glass may be as strong as steel, but it corrodes, it's main enemy is salt (sodium) and water, which forms NaOH which eats glass. Corrosion is accelerated by micro-defects in the surface of the glass, scratches & pits, which will surely be caused by traffic and weather. So while you may build a glass road that is smooth and transparent after, a depressingly short time it will be milky white. The tiny corroded pits will scatter the light giving a white appearance. This will probably make a better driving surface, but will destroy the energy generation of any solar cells underneath.

Glass also gets dirty, and dirt blocks light. Even normal solar cells lose 5~10% of their annual energy output because of dirt and they're mounted at an angle where rain can wash it off and don't actually have traffic rolling over them, depositing oil & rubber to act as glue to hold everything together.

This leaves aside any concepts of cost or economics of the idea. Why use the roads? there is no shortage of good places to put solar panels. Every roof could be made of solar cells which even in cities will have an area fairly equivalent to roadways. Roofs have far easier reliability concerns than roads. A n economic solar roof can be build today that is both an excellent roof and an excellent solar array.

Really the guy needs to start talking to people that build solar cells that will last 25 years outside and he needs to learn about reliability engineering. Its not that hard to build a glass surface, with LED's & solar cells that looks like what he's got. It incredibly hard to make it durable enough to work any length of time in the application at a cost point where its economic.
posted by Long Way To Go at 2:02 PM on September 23, 2010 [14 favorites]


I just had a look at the numbers section of his website. It isn't even consistent from paragraph to paragraph, let alone connected in any way to the real world. That is some high-grade crank output.
posted by ssg at 2:06 PM on September 23, 2010


Why is it that the idea of digging a tunnel down one mile under the ocean, then drilling an additional three miles under the crust of the earth to get at some really old stored solar energy deep within the earth's crust seems to so many people like a "realistic" and "practical" method of energy production, while ideas that are so much less crazy, over-engineered and far-fetched just on their face, like this one, are mocked to death instantly as obviously outside the realm of human possibility?

Because the oil well project is profitable enough to justify its expense. Whereas this "glass road" project would be a complete waste of money. Solar Power is not unprofitable because of a lack of real-estate.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:10 PM on September 23, 2010


Maybe "profitable enough" once decades of massive tax payer subsidies are taken into account, and external health and resource loss costs for local populations are excluded, I'll grant you. But starting from ground zero today, on a level-playing field, deep sea oil would not make the slightest bit of economic sense. It only seems to because we're already so invested in oil.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:14 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Blacktop/asphalt is a huge issue w/ waste heat and leads to the "heat island" effect people experience in big cities. It's a lot of wasted heat and energy.

Agreed. But there is a relatively simple solution to this: high-albedo pavement. It's low-tech and just requires light-colored stone chips and some sort of binder to hold it down. Currently tar is used, but if we started to run out of tar there are alternatives. Although I don't think there's really a shortage of tar—we'll have that stuff long after we've run out of light sweet crude.

High-albedo pavement is quite cheap, and it's the sort of thing we can do today. I'm not sure if it's really as appropriate for high-speed roadways as it is for parking lots and the like; on main arteries concrete is the preferred high-albedo asphalt alternative. It also lasts much longer than asphalt.

(Actually there is an even better solution, which is to plant street trees, but I get that in some areas that's not practical due to water requirements or sightline problems.)

That said, it did occur to me that if you were going to try to harvest solar energy from roadbeds, that a better—or at least more practical—way to do it than photoelectric cells would be to bury pipes in the asphalt layer and exploit the difference in temperature between the hot asphalt and a cold heatsink (e.g. geothermal wells, cooling pond). Such systems have actually been implemented at small scales, and represent only re-purposing of existing technology; no hand-wavey dependence on future developments in materials science is necessary.

However, I'm still pretty skeptical that it's not a solution looking for a problem; at least in the U.S. there's not a shortage of space to put up solar collection systems, whether thermal or PV. The problem is the cost-per-kW. That's changing, and it would change faster if we implemented feed-in tariffs.

But I don't see any reason to try and put PV cells into such an incredibly hostile environment (a roadbed) when there are lots of equally-good, far less hostile environments (roofs, industrial brownfields, sides of large buildings, etc.) that aren't being utilized. It's like proposing that we build a helicopter to harvest the tiny little fruit from the top of the tree, when we have big huge ones knocking us right in the face.

Perhaps there are places that are so densely built that, even if all the building roofs and other unshadowed spaces were used for solar power generation, there still wouldn't be enough power. In those places, if indeed there are any, perhaps solar-panel roads make sense. But that's certainly not anywhere in the US, and as PV efficiency and electric distribution systems become more efficient (meaning you need fewer square feet per kW and can put the panels further away from the point of consumption) it becomes a less attractive rather than better idea.

I'm all for long-term research and creative thinking, but this seemed impractical on first glance and the more I think about it the worse it seems.

Sounds like someone's angling for a communications job at the DOE!

I'm realistic. Right now we burn a shitload of coal. There isn't any scenario where that suddenly goes to zero. The best cases that stand a realistic chance of happening involve us not increasing our consumption of coal in the short term, with a very long drawdown as older plants are taken offline. E.g., we could require that for each BTU of coal-fired power brought online, an equivalent must be taken off; that would favor bringing inefficient plants offline faster than they are currently. (And the difference between old coal plants and new ones are dramatic. The new ones still release carbon, but they produce a lot less traditional air pollution and are far more efficient.) A mine or wellhead tax on carbon extraction that was used, dollar-for-dollar, as a feed-in subsidy for renewable energy would go a long way too, but wouldn't do anything overnight.

Plus, any proposed solution has to work within the constraints of the current political system, which involves a lot of people who frankly don't give a damn as long as their electric bill doesn't go up dramatically. Welcome to democracy; it sucks but the alternatives are worse. There's a limit to how quickly you can push tax-and-subsidy systems before people will start to push back against the rate increases. Slow and steady.

We're going to be burning it for a while. The trick is not to get discouraged by this, but to accept it and try to do the best we can within the environment we have to work in.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:20 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think this is a bad idea, because if it is made out of glass, I will eventually break it. No exceptions.
posted by fuq at 2:28 PM on September 23, 2010


Don't hate the player, hate the Federal Highway Administration for giving this grant money.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 2:51 PM on September 23, 2010


I just hope the folks here saying this cannot be done stay out of the way of the people doing it.

One of the great things about our modern interconnected life is how everyone has a choice, write something on the internet about how someone's idea is impossible, or work to make the impossible real.
posted by sfts2 at 2:55 PM on September 23, 2010


Also, visit the Corning Glass Museum.
posted by sfts2 at 2:56 PM on September 23, 2010


Also Liquid Thorium Nuclear Reactors.
posted by sfts2 at 2:59 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lets pave the Sahara. Or Saudi Arabia.

Parking lots are out. Vast stretches of southern highway.
posted by sfts2 at 3:04 PM on September 23, 2010


I love the idea... goes along with something else I read today:
Rule #4: Thou Shall Not Dream Too Big

Who’s to say what’s realistic or not?

Do we really believe that Orville and Wilbur Wright were deemed “realistic” by their fellow townsfolk while they used their bicycle repair shop profits to try and build the world’s first “flying machine?”

posted by bdragon at 4:03 PM on September 23, 2010


So batteries technology has advanced to give me the 1000 -- 1200 km range that my 6-year old VW diesel Golf has?
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:37 AM on September 23 [+] [!]


Hmmm ... seems awfully high to me. Let's just look that up, shall we?

2005 Volkswagen Golf Fuel Economy

Fuel Type Diesel MPG (city)32 MPG (highway) 41MPG (combined) 35

Tank Size 14.5 gal Miles on a Tank 457 miles


Can you please explain how your Golf enjoys 3 times this stated range, fimbulvetr? I'm sure other owners will be fascinated.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:20 PM on September 23, 2010


PareidoliaticBoy, I'm not sure how you get roughly 735km to be a third of what fimbulvetr claimed. Even taking the upper limit of his range (1200km) 457 miles is more than half. Sure, it's less than the claim, but not by anything like as much as you indicate.

Units, sir. Units.
posted by Dysk at 4:54 PM on September 23, 2010


Also, if we're looking at the maximum range of a vehicle, it makes sense to use the highway fuel economy figures, rather than the city one - after all, we're going for a practical maximum. Using the figures PareidoliaticBoy linked, that gives the 2005 diesel Golf (note: this vehicle is not six years old, unlike fimbulvetr's) a range of 594.5 miles, or 956km. It's not inconceivable that the previous model Golf was capable of insignificantly more, taking the range (just about) within that originally claimed for the six-year-old Golf.
posted by Dysk at 4:58 PM on September 23, 2010


Actually, It was the 2004 I originally looked up. Out of interest though, I also looked at the range of years, to see if there was a sudden change, but they are pretty close. I inadvertently copied and pasted the year 2005. T

Now, as using the maximum Highway rating, sorry, not buying that at all. It's the combined average range that is actually useful for comparison purposes, this is how most people drive. You are quite correct though about me not noticing that he had used Kilometers, not miles, so I stand corrected.

That said, the stated range is 470 miles, so the exaggeration is actually on the order of about 50%.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:31 PM on September 23, 2010


Given that the range is an advertising figure, it's not likely to reflect reality in quite that regard. Given how most people drive when they are considering the maximum range of their cars, especially (it's largely a case of 'how long a trip can this electric vehicle make?') the combined figure becomes less representative of reality. Somewhere between the two would probably be ideal, but again, these are theoretical maxima, it would surprise me to learn that Tesla, for example, use the equivalent of a combined figure of power draw for calculating the maximum range they claim for the Volt.

I'm not sure how to go about looking this up (a cursory Google failed), so I stand to be corrected.
posted by Dysk at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2010


Seems to me that doing this on road surfaces is just adding unneeded complexity to deal with the wear and tear of 40-ton truck traffic and all that.

If there are 25,000 square miles of road surface, there are also 25,000 square miles of roofs and parking lots where these panels can be installed a lot cheaper.

Yes, asphalt is going to get more expensive, but this is not the solution to that problem.
posted by beagle at 5:50 PM on September 23, 2010


Can you please explain how your Golf enjoys 3 times this stated range, fimbulvetr? I'm sure other owners will be fascinated.

Simple. Like most of the world, my car is in metric. So, 1000 km easy with highway driving. When I make a concerted effort to conserve while driving on the highway, I've done around 1200 km before I'm funning on fumes.

Crash any probes into Mars lately?
posted by fimbulvetr at 5:59 PM on September 23, 2010


Given that the range is an advertising figure, it's not likely to reflect reality in quite that regard.

Yep. This will be true for both camps, I expect.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:01 PM on September 23, 2010


Combined city and highway we run between 800 and 900 km, easy. Usually towards the lower end during the winter -- -40°C will do that to a diesel. I've kept detailed records every time I tank up since I bought the thing, so have the numbers to prove it.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:04 PM on September 23, 2010


We've been doing the conversions and math, up above, fimbulvetr . The stated range works out to about 752kms. If you are getting 1200 kms, your golf seems pretty special; although I wonder if the European model has a larger tank? I assume that you're in Europe?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:09 PM on September 23, 2010


Er ... Golf. A 1200 km golf drive would be something to boast about!
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:10 PM on September 23, 2010


Canada. 55 l tank. I've done the bloody calculations myself with actual real road data. The refuel light usually goes on at around 750 to 800 km, and there is still the reserve, which is good for another 100 - 150km. It's called hypermiling. You can do it with any car.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:22 PM on September 23, 2010


Well, you could also get out and push. That'd net you some real savings! Sarcasm aside, I admire your discipline to be able to achieve that. But it's not a realistic average range, which was kind of my point.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:28 PM on September 23, 2010


There's a thing called "hypermiling"? I thought it was called "common fucking sense." But I guess I don't see much of that on the road.
posted by mek at 6:30 PM on September 23, 2010


Yeah, admittedly. But it can be done without too much trouble. Unless I'm pulling my boat, then ferget it. Mayby 600 km, if I'm lucky.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:31 PM on September 23, 2010


Wow, I can't believe this guy went ahead with this goofy idea without talking to some civil engineers first.

This idea is frankly bat-sh*t-insane.

A road requires a cheap building material that will operate in terrible environmental conditions (heat, cold, water, mechanical impact, corrosion). Solar power tech isn't even competitive now against the old evil carbon-based energy sources. And he's taking that and throwing it mano-a-mano against rocks and tar?

Jesus Murphy.

In the race for a greener world, this guy is piling on anvils. He's slowing us down by taking valuable resources away from ideas that have at least a snowball's chance in hell of working.
posted by storybored at 7:42 PM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


BadASS.

I am so hot for engineers, it is just ridiculous. Environmental engineers in particular really turn my crank. I could watch this video six times in a row and not get bored.

I live in an emerging solar market. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yes, really. The show house on this website is about three blocks away from me right now. Not a lot of sun, tons of snow, and there are several houses nearby that generate all, part, or a surplus of the electricity that they use just from the sun.

I can't parse the volts/amps/watts, but when the librarian tells me that she goes out to her electrical meter for fun now (because it's spinning backward) and that she hasn't paid an electric bill in eighteen months, I'm inclined to think that this works.
posted by Leta at 8:07 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


NYC is the only US city, where it's reasonable to assume that 95% of the population could live without a car without substantially impacting their quality of life.

BS. There are large parts of many US cities where you can live without a car right now, though you do have to be selective about where you live and where you work.

I have lived in several neighborhoods in Los Angeles where you can get by without a car, including the one I'm in now. There's a bus stop at the corner 100 yards away that takes me to a Metro station that's less than a mile away, if I don't feel like walking the mile. Ther are lots of very nice houses here, though I live in an apartment. My wife's place of employment is just over 2 miles away; she could walk or take a bus directly to it, but she likes her scooter. I work from home, but there are a number of places I could work that are easily accessible via Metro.

If your quality of life includes working in a big ol' hi rise and living in a McMansion on 10 acres, well, you might need to scale down a bit.

Also note that if you don't let people have their own cars, the amount of energy saved would be far, far more than it would take to multiply existing mass transit in a place like LA by 10x, maybe even 100x. Everyone could have a local tram (electric or hybrid) stop every 10 minutes within 6 blocks, feeding into wider area buses and the subway, light and heavy rail. Without all the current existing traffic, a system like that could run like clockwork.

And guess what, the roads would take a lot less of a beating and would last a lot longer.

As regards the FPP, well... interesting idea, but highly unlikely. We have far more serious problems that need solving first than what our roads are surfaced with.
posted by zoogleplex at 9:38 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, the stated range is 470 miles, so the exaggeration is actually on the order of about 50%.

I have a 2000 Jetta TDI and I can drive 1100km+ on the highway on about 48L of diesel (and that's crossing over the Rocky Mountains). That's very much in line with what other drivers report. You need efficient tires and to drive reasonably carefully, but it isn't hard to achieve that kind of efficiency.

I don't have first hand knowledge of this, but my understanding is that the TDI engine becomes significantly more efficient as it wears in over the first 10,000km or more (and, of course, the testing is done with a much newer engine).
posted by ssg at 9:42 PM on September 23, 2010


PareidoliaticBoy: The stated range works out to about 752kms. If you are getting 1200 kms, your golf seems pretty special;

[...]

But it's not a realistic average range, which was kind of my point.


He never claimed it was. He claimed it was what he could do with his Golf. And the figures you linked back up that claim - if you're on the highway, you can go roughly 1000km on a tank according to the linked figures.
posted by Dysk at 6:05 AM on September 24, 2010


Who needs a LED road we were all promised flying cars...
posted by alfanut at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2010


NYC is the only US city, where it's reasonable to assume that 95% of the population could live without a car without substantially impacting their quality of life.

Quality of life is almost infinitely flexible. Food, shelter, human contact, sewage. In that order.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:48 AM on September 24, 2010


If the Romans had 40 ton semis on their roads, they wouldn't have lasted quite as long

We've got two thousand years on the Romans and their travertine.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:41 PM on September 24, 2010


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