Within the framework of the Interreg project Rolling Solar (Euregio Maas-Rijn), researchers are exploring the possibility of integrating solar cells into road infrastructure like bicycle lanes, motor ways and sound barriers. At Thor Park in Genk, the Belgian partners in this project work on a test setup of noise barriers with integrated solar cells. Simultaneously, Dutch partners in the Netherlands work on comparable test setups, in order to achieve together a fast, large-scale implementation of the technology.
On panels that total a 13 metre length and 5 metre height, researchers will soon test whether solar panels can be integrated on non-transparent surfaces. This will be done by attaching or gluing both traditional solar panels and ultra-fine, flexible, thin film solar panels onto concrete walls. “Additionally, we also investigate the potential of a semi-transparent setup. This consists of metal frames, in which we install solar panels that can absorb solar energy on both sides, the so-called bi-facial PV”, Michaël Daenen (UHasselt/EnergyVille), head researcher of the project, explains.
Picture: the first part of the sound barrier with integrated solar cells has been installed.
Economy Deputy and POM chairman Tom Vandeput: “This project is extremely innovative. The public space that is occupied with road infrastructure, will be given a large added value, because of its new function as an energy producer. It also ensures a higher sustainability and creates an endless amount of possibilities in urbanised Flanders. Should we succeed in applying this new technology to the road infrastructure of the municipalities in Limburg, it would make Limburg a front runner in the energy transition.”
Monitoring energy yield and acoustics
For a full year, researchers will monitor the energy yield of different types of solar cells and look into the stability of the materials used. To this end, they’ve placed a number of sensors in the modules, which allow them to continuously monitor factors like temperature or mechanical stress. That way, insight is gained on both the impact of (extremely) warm or cold temperatures on the energy yield of the panels and the effect of e.g. a heavily loaded truck passing by, or a big gust of wind, on the stability of this technology.
The researchers will also test the acoustic qualities of the sound barriers according to current requirements. “Of course our noise barriers don’t just have to produce energy, in the first place they have to absorb sound. Therefore we’re placing transparent sound absorbers in front of the wall and we’ll register the loss in output that occurs with the panels”, says Michaël Daenen.
For the choices of both material and technology, and the modelling of the energy yield provided, researchers turned to imec’s expertise. “It’s our mission to help our partners in translating new ideas to real life demonstrations”, says Eszter Voroshazi, who leads the photovoltaic research group at EnergyVille/imec.
Potential of the technology
With this project, led by the Dutch Research Organisation TNO, researchers and industrial partners want to demonstrate the potential and diversity of possibilities of solar cells integrated in public road infrastructure. Bas van de Kreeke (industrial partner): “Being an infra-contractor, we see a lot of potential. The cooperation with knowledge institutions offers us an opportunity to further industrialise the process. I foresee that shortly, we’ll already be able to attach the solar panels to the sound wall in the factory, under optimised circumstances. That setup will then only have to be placed at the side of the road. A plug coming from that wall will be connected to the electricity network.”
Economy Deputy Tom Vandeput: “This type of project fits perfectly within the priorities set at SALKturbo. We have to excel to achieve a crisis resistant economy and high value jobs. Innovation strongly adds to that. Where research into the smart energy transition is concerned, EnergyVille is a major player. This top position is further translated into making our companies more innovative, stronger and more competitive. The building sector in Limburg and the road building sector already have an excellent reputation. If this project succeeds, it will reinforce the competitiveness of our companies. That will be good for the growth of companies, the reassuring of employment and the creation of new jobs. And eventually, it will also benefit the prosperity in Limburg.”
Picture: prof. dr. Michaël Daenen and Deputy Tom Vandeput
The Rolling Solar project can count on the financial support of Europe (EFRO European Fund for Regional Development) and the Province Limburg, which is investing 227.000 EUR.
The city of Genk is also an important partner within the project. “Under the motto ‘everyone’s a producer’, the city of Genk clearly strives for energy neutrality. Through projects like ‘Rolling Solar’ at EnergyVille, this goal could become a reality. Thanks to this project, we’re both generating energy and taking care of life quality”, says Wim Dries, Mayor of Genk. “And making that combination in an innovative city like Genk, which profiles itself as a living lab, makes me proud to be able to realise this project at Thor Park with EnergyVille and all other partners. This benefits the people, the city and therefore a stronger, more sustainable future in Flanders and Belgium”.