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Green Highways: The Path to Sustainable Roads in 2024

Electric vehicles (EVs) are an excellent start for making roads more sustainable. What is the next step for the transportation industry? Creating green highways revamps infrastructure and makes it more conducive to EVs. The push for greener roads has led to projects in the U.S. and worldwide. Here’s a guide to the present and future of this environmentally conscious concept.

What Technology Powers Green Highways?

Sustainable roads can arrive in various ways. Some rely on technology for daily operations, whereas others are simpler and don’t need as much modern tech.

Technology-dependent sustainable highways often include photovoltaic (PV) panels, as these roads integrate solar technology with the ground. Cars drive over highways with electromagnetic coils underneath, connected to the area’s electrical grid. The coils provide energy for the cars as they glide across the road, transferring power to receivers in the vehicle’s battery.

Constructing green highways also derives from the materials you use. Making the roads more sustainable entails utilizing recycled materials and being smarter about implementation. Resources should be as local as possible and developers should prioritize greener materials like recycled concrete.

Transportation officials can improve a highway’s longevity by ensuring stormwater and other weather elements don’t ruin the road and shorten their life span. They also must be more selective about highway construction and its environmental impact.

Why Are Green Highways Necessary?

Why have industry experts pushed for green highways? The benefits are difficult to ignore. Here are a few reasons more sustainable roads are under construction.

Supporting Electric Vehicles

If EVs are the future of passenger cars, they’ll need roads to support their staying power. The automobile market comprises 90% gas-powered cars, but solar-powered green highways could propel EVs into a more practical auto option. These roads charge your electric machine as you drive, thus helping you spend less time at a charging station.

Public chargers in the U.S. are level 1, level 2 or direct current (DC) fast charging. You need about four to 10 hours to charge with a level 2, meaning an overnight stay could be necessary. Solar-powered roads harness the sun’s power and charge your EV while driving.

EV Roads Charging Project Dubai
Source: Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority

Reducing Emissions

EVs are the future of the automotive industry, so green highways are critical when transitioning the public to electric cars. Range anxiety could be a reason people avoid EVs, so green highways with solar technology can alleviate this concern. Increasing the share of EVs means fewer greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxides (NOx) in cities and rural areas.

These sustainable roads are vital in the U.S. when considering the country’s size. For example, road trips on U.S. Route 66 would become more enticing and sustainable for EV owners if some segments contained wireless charging. Encouraging EV implementation also makes communities safer by reducing the amount of air and water pollution. Sound barriers and EVs combine to produce nearly silent and sustainable roads.

Helping Water Quality

While EVs are at the forefront of green highways, the benefits extend to local waterways. Asphalt roads don’t contribute much to sustainability efforts because of stormwater runoff. When precipitation leaves the road, it carries suspended solids, oils and metals into drains, rivers and sewage systems. These events pose public health threats because the water quality deteriorates.

How can sustainable roads change this outcome? One solution is to treat the water before it enters the drain or local environment. Green infrastructure can capture the precipitation and mitigate its harm to the public. Landscaping is another possibility because plants can capture and use the stormwater for growth. Experts should also consider permeable pavement because it lets precipitation seep into the ground instead of entering drains.

Protecting Wildlife

Human health is critical with these green projects, but it’s equally important to protect wildlife. Reducing or eliminating the stormwater runoff issue would prevent toxins from infecting local populations. Ecosystems can be fragile, so protecting natural resources like water and vegetation goes a long way in conservation efforts. How can infrastructure further help wildlife and the environment?

Some areas have developed sustainable roads with no cars or motorized vehicles allowed. Here, you can only use bicycles or your feet for transportation. These paths — typically within metro areas — connect cities and eliminate car pollution. Instead, they’re more conducive for humans and nature to coexist while still getting where you need to go.

One example of green roads is in Atlanta with the city’s BeltLine. This concept has added green spaces and trails to various neighborhoods in the city, thus connecting communities without relying on motorized vehicles.

Highway Wildlife Crossing
Source: Image by By Hagai Agmon-Snir

Where Are Sustainable Roads Worldwide?

Highways are integral for transportation and carrying goods to their destinations. Where can you find green projects worldwide? Here are a few examples of these innovative roads.

1. Sweden

One of the most famous green highways in the world is in Sweden. The Nordic country started its push for sustainable infrastructure in 2020 when it built a wireless electric road in Visby, an island south of Stockholm. These roads charge your EV and limit the time you have to wait to charge.

Now, Sweden is taking the next step by expanding this technology on major roads. For example, the government wants to build a 13-mile stretch of electric highway between Hallsberg and Örebro. When construction has concluded, people can access the road from Gothenburg, Stockholm and Malmö.

Sweden is an EV-friendly country, with XPENG and other manufacturers delivering cars here because of the demand. The nation’s electric enthusiasm could lead to an EV spread across the continent and the world.

Watch this video to learn more about wireless electric road charging in Sweden:

2. United States

While green highways are not widespread in the U.S., opportunities for infrastructure revitalization are present. Experts say 94% of paved roads in America contain asphalt, so transforming them into sustainable roads would transform the country. Where can inspiration come from?

Purdue University engineers are developing a road to charge EVs wirelessly, whether you drive a passenger car or a long-haul truck. The project has started a quarter-mile testing road in West Lafayette, where the university is. The research team aims to determine how much power the road can transfer to large EVs, considering how much energy they require to move.

Purdue University Smart Road
Source: Purdue University

3. Kenya

Sustainable roads typically make you think of solar power and EVs. While these technologies are prevalent, some countries have made their highways greener by mitigating water damage. Heavy precipitation and flooding can wear roads quickly, so transportation experts must find creative solutions to maintain their infrastructure.

Kenya is an excellent example, as Makueni County faces floods for about three months during the year. How do they manage their roads? The highways use channels and culverts to divert water and repurpose it for the agricultural industry. Additionally, Makueni County has incorporated fruit trees to mitigate dust and absorb the water runoff.

Kenya Green Roads
Source: roadsforwater.org

4. Netherlands

Environmentally friendly transportation is a priority in the European Union (EU), as seen in their sustainable roads. The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium form a trio with 800,000km of roads supporting energy infrastructure.

Head to Uden, Netherlands, to see a 400-meter stretch of road with solar harnessing capabilities. This section of A50 generates energy for 60 homes using solar panels. While reducing air pollution is critical, the road also reduces noise through its sound barriers. The road’s success has led to other projects around the EU, such as Rolling Solar. This initiative aims to utilize roads in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium for energy production.

Solar Road Netherlands
Source: dakoa.com

5. South Korea

Sejong, South Korea, has taken a different approach by incorporating solar panels in the middle of its eight-lane highway. This road contains over 7,500 solar panels and spans three miles as cyclists travel underneath these systems. The photovoltaic panels support streetlights and enough power for 600 homes in the country’s administrative capital. Additionally, this green infrastructure provides shade and rain protection for cyclists on this highway.

South Korea, Solar Panelled Highway
source: researchgate.net

Empowering Green Highways Worldwide

The future of transportation must be more sustainable for the planet’s sake. While EVs are a critical component of this vision, sustainable roads will go a long way in conserving resources and reducing emissions.

Countries on multiple continents are researching and testing green highways to charge EVs, mitigate stormwater damage and power local energy infrastructure. Further success with these projects will make the transition to EVs easier because range anxiety will be less of an issue.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the challenges in implementing sustainable roads?

Implementing sustainable roads presents challenges such as high infrastructure costs for features like cycling lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets. It also requires public support and political commitment to invest in sustainable transportation.

Comprehensive strategies are essential to tackle issues like traffic congestion, road maintenance, climate change risks, environmental impacts, safety, and cost-effectiveness, ensuring the successful adoption of sustainable road management practices for lasting environmental and social advantages.

What is the future outlook for sustainable roads and green highways?

The future outlook for sustainable roads and green highways is promising. With growing awareness about environmental issues, there is an increasing focus on developing eco-friendly infrastructure that minimizes carbon footprint and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Innovative materials like recycled plastics and rubberized asphalt are being explored for road construction, along with energy-efficient lighting and better drainage systems to manage stormwater runoff. Governments and organizations are also investing in research and implementing sustainable practices to build a greener transportation network.

How do electric highways support long-distance eco travel?

Electric highways support long-distance eco travel by providing a network of roads equipped with charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. This enables longer journeys between charging stops due to advancements in battery technology.

Furthermore, the integration of renewable energy sources like solar and wind to power the charging stations ensures the electricity used for charging is generated sustainably.

References

Author Bio

Jack Shaw is the senior writer and Lifestyle editor of Modded. Through his writing, he seeks to provide ways to improve the environmental impact of readers’ day-to-day lives. His tips and explorations have been featured in Tesla Oracle, Environment Go!, Outdoor Hacker and more. Reach out to him via LinkedIn.

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