Rise of the power road: Norway targets roads that produce more energy than they use

The roads of the future could function as a massive network of power stations, harvesting wasted energy from cars and generating additional power through bridges fitted with solar panels and wind turbines.

This is the focus of a new project between Scandinavia’s largest research organisation, SINTEF, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), which is looking to develop ‘power roads’ that generate more energy than they consume.

The plan is to incorporate these into an existing project by the Norwegian Public Roads Agency, also known as Statens Vegvesen, which is looking to replace the ferry crossing sections of the E39 motorway in Western Norway by 2030. The project will simultaneously reduce the energy required to build the roads, and incorporate energy-generating infrastructure.

As ambitious as the project sounds, SINTEF is confident that it is achievable within the timeframe, and is already planning test sites for next year.

“We hope to be launching the first projects in the spring of 2016,” said Berit Laanke, from SINTEF Building and Infrastructure.

“With the dedicated commitment of public sector organisations such as Statens Vegvesen, I’m convinced that the Power Road project will succeed.”

One of the bridges planned for Norway's E39 project. Image courtesy of Statens Vegvesen

One of the bridges planned for Norway’s E39 project. Image courtesy of Statens Vegvesen

In order to create roads that generate power in numerous different ways, SINTEF is planning an array of research projects tackling different aspects of the system.

“In the short term SINTEF is looking to launch a small number of specific projects”, said Laanke.

“This autumn we’re focusing on energy generation linked to bridges, involving systems integrated into safety barriers and noise screens. We’re also looking into how materials production can be made more energy efficient by using locally-sourced stone, and are working together with Statens Vegvesen on a project proposal involving the electrification of heavy-duty transport vehicles, incorporating a kind of ‘rubber track’, equivalent to a tram running on rubber wheels.”

Norway’s E39 project will require a significant number of bridges to be built, so there is also a strong focus on how to turn these structures into multifaceted power stations.

In addition to building solar panels and wind turbines into the bridges, the organisation wants to include systems that generate power from the waves and currents in the water the bridges are crossing.

Bhumibol Bridge in Thailand, which has solar panels built into its base.

Bhumibol Bridge in Thailand, which has solar panels built into its base.

However, the focus will need to be on harvesting energy using the roads themselves, if the project is to be replicated across the country and beyond.

For SINTEF, this means finding ways to extract energy from cars themselves.

“Electric cars are already able to recharge themselves as they go downhill,” said Laanke.

“Will it be possible to harvest some of this energy if the car battery is fully charged? Cars exert a pressure on the surface they roll along, so perhaps we can capture this energy for re-use?

“The same principle has been applied on football pitches. As the players run around, lights are activated to illuminate the pitch.”

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