Route 66 is perhaps the most iconic highway in the history of the United States. Running from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., the highway served as a major road for those migrating west and also became famous for the small towns that sprang up along the route.
The road even inspired a famous song, “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” by Bobby Troup, and the television show, “Route 66,” which followed two young men as they drove a Chevrolet Camaro on a road trip across the United States. However, much of the road’s fame disappeared when the interstate highway system was developed, bypassing the route.
Now, Route 66 now is about to become famous again for a completely different reason.
In Missouri, officials plan to place photovoltaic pavers on a stretch of the highway through the state, which would make Route 66 the first roadway in the U.S. to be a power-generating “solar road.”
The energy-producing pavers are being produced by Solar Roadways, an Idaho-based company started by married couple Scott and Julie Brusaw.
Using crowdfunding, the pair were able to raise $2.2 million to bring their technology to the market. Their motivation is concern for the environment. On their company webpage, the two – who are parents and grandparents – say they want to leave the world a better place for their children.
The two believe that replacing all of the country’s roadways with the solar-powered pavers would generate more than three times the electricity consumed in the U.S. in 2009.
The Missouri Department of Transportation plans to have its own crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to pave a section of Route 66 with the photovoltaic pavers. The exact location and the miles of roadway to be paved are not yet known, but the plan is have the project completed by the end of 2016.
The pavers are covered with a tempered glass shell that protects the hexagonal-shaped solar panel beneath it, while also allowing in sunlight. Each panel is about the size of a tire and can withstand 250,000 pounds.
The glass shell also has hexagonal-shaped bumps that improve traction for drivers – providing better traction than asphalt. These bumps are angled at 45 degrees, focusing sunlight onto the solar cells below.
Also, the panels have embedded LED lights that can be used to show traffic signs or crosswalks as well as other information important for drivers.
Alongside the road, a covered trough would house cables that collect and transport the energy generated through the pavers.
Solar Roadways believes the Missouri project could be the first step to generating large amounts of solar energy on the nation’s roadways. While they are on the forefront of this technology in the U.S., they are not alone in their belief in this concept.
In France, the government announced early in 2016 that 621 miles of roadway in France will have solar pavers. And in Amsterdam, a company called SolaRoad has used solar pavers on a bike path in the city as the first step to seeing if it is worthwhile doing on the city’s roadways.
Once these projects are completed, it will remain to be seen how much energy is collected and how efficient the solar pavers are in practice. But the potential is definitely there, and Route 66 could once again become an important roadway in our nation’s highway system.