Friday, October 06, 2006

Pretty And Practical

Hey, here's an idea that's pretty neat. I read last June about a concept being developed in Scotland, in which roadways would be used as power collection stations, and how heat absorbed throughout the day by the blacktop can be converted to power and stored for later use. I thought that was a promising development, since there are an awful lot of streets soaking up the sun's rays year round. Now there's another cool idea for the "fun things to do with roads" list. A team of Australian engineers has come up with a new way to turn roads into water collection and purification systems. Anna Salleh writes for Science Online that they are developing a new kind of porous paver, designed to take advantage of the fact that so many urban surfaces are roads, driveways and paths--about sixty percent of them. Rather than letting these surfaces shed rainwater runoff into waterways, and taking road pollution with it, the pavers would allow the water to seep through them, filtering it in the process by means of additives, microbes, and granulated activated carbon, and then sending it into underground storage tanks. Such water stores could then be used for irrigation, cleaning and the like. Not bad, eh?

One side effect of this alternate to standard concrete or asphalt is that trees planted nearby would also benefit from access to more water and air. Chalk this one up in the "good side effect" category. Happy trees are always a nice thing. The pavers could facilitate other greenery, as well. The article mentions that the pavers "can be seeded with low maintenance native vegetation." I assume this is in low traffic areas. I get the image in my head of a village somewhere, with these special concrete pavers laid out in pretty patterns and lovely Scotch moss weaving its way throughout as part of the effect. Makes me want to go there--wherever there is. Of course, the added bonus comes when you discover that the road isn't just lovely, it's also supremely functional as well, and provides a goodly share of the town's water. Pretty and practical are such a great combination. Lest you fear that a road doing extra duty as a water-gatherer won't hold up as a road, the pavers are reinforced with a special "bonding material" so they can take the weight from cars and trucks. Pretty, practical and strong--everything you ever wanted in a road, and more.

According to Salleh, a full-scale prototype is about to be built. I think the heat gathering system in Scotland is likely well under way, too. If both of them succeed, the streets of the future will be doing a lot of multitasking. "Roads: they're not just for driving anymore." Now they filter water and run your refrigerator, too!! I suppose the two systems are mutually exclusive. It probably wouldn't be practical to collect both power and water from the same roadway. At least, if they try, it would behoove them to make sure they don't cross the streams. Who knows, though? Maybe those underground water tanks could be filled on the rainy days, and then heated on the sunny ones. People are so inventive; I wouldn't put it past them.

Hat tip: Futurismic