Sustainable Cities™

Intelligent surface treatments on the paths and roads of the future

New technological trends are focusing on roads and paths, which can generate and deploy green energy via intelligent surfaces. A network of footpaths in southern England has been given a surface treatment, which lights up like stars in the dark, and in the future we will probably be able to interact with our motorways.

Starpath, Photo: Pro-Teq Surfacing

As an alternative to our electric road and footpath lighting, designers are in the process of developing intelligent technologies, where illumination of our roads can be produced using the weather and innovative materials. In addition to focusing on energy consumption by electric lighting, designers are also taking on board the issue of light pollution. By creating intelligent designs, which respond to the intensity of darkness, car headlights or outdoor temperatures, light sources disappear during periods, when there is no need for them. 

Solar-powered footpaths

A company based in the southwest of London, Pro-Teq Surfacing, has developed a surface treatment, which absorbs the sun's UV rays during the day and lights up at night. But this surface treatment is different from other luminescent surfaces, in that it looks more like glittering crystals in the tarmac. This technology has been implemented in a network of paths in a park in Cambridge, instead of ordinary street lamps. "The Starpath" is in the process of being tested and is serving as a preliminary prototype. As an alternative to electric street lighting, the technology is a proposal for town and city councils, which would like to save both energy and money by removing lighting at the sides of footpaths and cycle paths. The illumination from the tarmac provides pedestrians and cyclists with a safe route through the area, and the surface neither dazzles nor bothers neighbours.  

Similar to the technology of an iPhone, "The Starpath" can provide more illumination on the route, if the night is pitch dark, and less, if there is a full moon. This intelligent surface is sustainable and can quickly be applied to a path network, which therefore requires no reconstruction. After painting the existing surface with a liquid, the area can be reopened after approx. 30 minutes. 

Solar walkSolar Walk, Photo: George Washington University

Another idea for an intelligent surface, which exploits the sun's rays, is "Solar Walk", which has been developed in Virginia. The designers responsible for this project claim that they have created the world's first solar-cell pavement. The approximately 9 km2 area, which was unveiled in October 2013, has been implemented in the ground along a network of paths and allows people to walk on it. Development of Solar Walk started in 2011. Together with George Washington University, Onyx Solar will develop more aesthetic solar-cell designs in the future. 

The interactive motorways of tomorrow

Aiming at large-scale intelligent surfacing, the Dutch designer, Daan Roosegaarde is working on a design for motorways. "Smart Highway" is an interactive, sustainable road with intelligent functions, which communicate with motorists, while generating energy. The purpose of the smart motorway is to create more road safety and reduce the amount of energy consumed by street lighting. 

Intelligent motorvejIntelligent motorway, Illustration: Studio Roosegaarde 

Several of the functions on this interactive road have been implemented with the use of dynamic paint. "Dynamic Lines" are road markings, which adapt to traffic and alternate between being complete and dotted lines. The dynamic paint can also be used to form ice crystals on the road. The crystals react and illuminate the tarmac, when the temperature drops below freezing point. In the long term an "Induction Priority Lane" will be able to charge electric cars as they drive. It will also generate energy for interactive light, which follows the car, and once the car has passed, the light is switched off. 

Winner of the 2013 INDEX Community Prize

Last year the "Smart Highways" project won the INDEX Award Prize in the Community category. The Dutch designer, Daan Roosegaarde is in the process of developing the technology and will realise the project in association with Heijmans Infrastructure. The prize of €100,000, which Daan Roosegaarde received, will be used to realise the concept. The dynamic paint for stripes and ice crystals will be the first priority. He will then develop the function for charging electric cars as they drive along the road.  

Read about a 500 meter testrun on a motorway in Holland here

Thursday, November 14, 2013 / By Nina Kirstine Busk

Last updated Tuesday, April 22, 2014