As gas prices climb ever higher there is a growing demand for alternative energy sources, but mounting population numbers make the switch harder to accomplish than it might seem. Wind turbine farms are noisy and many people do not want them near their homes. Solar panels are expensive and relatively inefficient for their size. Biofuel production takes up valuable land and competes with our nation’s food capacity. Running out of space and time, scientists are trying to come up with new places they can harness energy without hindering our lifestyles or locations, and the suggestions they have thought up are quite the compromise.
The issue with wind power generation is one of location. Turbines are loud and large, considered unattractive by some, and so many people do not want to live by them. A seemingly simple solution to this would be to build the wind farms in the more remote Midwest plains. Climate change, however, is rerouting wind patterns and dwindling winds make the permanent, expensive turbines a bad investment. Instead, researchers are testing out a way of capturing the wind we create every day — from our cars.
Automobiles at high speeds use a lot of energy to push air from their paths, creating wind speeds that are faster than the natural average of 10 mph. The energy proposal is to retrofit major highways with wind collection devices along the sides, centerline, and overhead that will capture otherwise wasted wind energy. Estimates say the wind created by vehicles traveling 70mph would create 9,600 kWh per year. That energy could be used for traffic lights, electric billboards, light-rail transportation systems, or sent back to a nearby power grid.
One company is attempting to solve the energy crisis via highways as well, but not with wind. Solar Roadways, an Idaho-based business, is currently working on a 45 mile prototype of a solar panel road that generates and stores energy for buildings and homes, and four other companies have begun to express interest in the technology. The solar roads would consist of three layers: a protective, transparent top — strong enough to withstand weight and weather but clear to let the light through; a solar cell middle layer — to create and store energy; and a third layer which will distribute the energy to the connected units.
Roads could become the power grid, reducing dependency on foreign oil. They could warn drivers up upcoming hazards like animals or bad drivers, and could reduce accidents by 70 percent, says one source. They are also electric-car-friendly, since they could ideally recharge the car on the road. Owner Scott Brusaw claims that if the US Interstate Highway system were substituted with his 10 percent efficiency solar roads, it would create enough energy to power the entire country. It would also cut greenhouse gas emissions by half. This project is still in its early stages, though, as it faces scrutiny of the immense cost, reliability, and snow covering and nightfall particulars.
With an increasing competition over land to grow food or biofuel, scientists have begun a three year study to determine whether formerly contaminated lands can be used to grow biofuel crops. The contaminated lands, called brownfields, do not currently grow anything, but a gardening success would be an important discovery. Brownfields across the nation could support the biofuel initiative and could also help decontaminate the ground, a process known as bioremediation. This might be the quickest solution to decreasing our fossil fuel dependence, and would contribute to our nation’s economic and environmental challenges.
While all of these alternative energy proposals are still being evaluated, it looks like we have our sights set for the long run. These solutions are ones we can live with, because they are corrections to what we already have rather than intrusions into our personal space. Our future looks promising down the road, but in the mean time we’ll just have to put up with the roadwork while they install the clean energy technologies.