Scientists at Novotech and two Massachusetts universities are working to create a new system that could channel heat from the asphalt and other paving materials into clean and usable energy.
According to the researchers their new process will be able to reduce the “urban heat island” effect generated when the heat from the pavement warms the nearby air and lower the rate of buckling in the pavement. It this way it should reduce the energy needs for the urban area.
Unlike traditional solar panels that work only during daytime, the asphalt is an excellent source of energy because it remains hot (generating energy) even after sunset. Being an insulator, the asphalt tends to retain its heat. Researchers have been experimenting with placing copper pipes wrapped in graphite or other strong conductors about an inch below the surface of the pavement. They have also looked into using series of heat sinks similar to those used in some residential floorboard heating systems.
For the moment the system is currently being tested on a small scale. To determine their effect on power production, the slabs are exposed to rain, wind and other weather conditions. The researchers plan to use these thermocouples in parking lots near commercial buildings, in this way they can generate enough electricity to power those buildings.