Asphalt Energy: Talk About A Hot Foot!

by Antonio Pasolini on August 22, 2008

Ever hear the expression “it’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk”? That may be a colorful way to describe the temperature but scientists aren’t taking the concept lightly. A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is close to commercializing a means of using that heat-soaking property of road-asphalt for an alternative energy source.

These researchers are developing a solar collector that could potentially turn sun-heated roads and parking lots into ever-present (and inexpensive) sources of electricity and hot water.

So far these tests have taken slabs of asphalt embedded with thermocouples, which measure heat penetration, and copper pipes to gauge how well that heat could be transferred to say flowing water for example.

By pumping water through copper piping embedded in the hot asphalt the water would, of course, absorb the heat in the process. This hot water could then be used without modification for heating buildings or in industrial processes or could be passed through a thermoelectric generator to produce electricity.

The best part about this potential energy source is that it requires very little modification to existing processes. Copper pipes could easily be laid down prior to the paving of future roads or parking lots plus the heat energy contained within has been nothing more than a nuisance to barefoot pedestrians up until now.

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