Car Industry

How The Ray is building a greener highway

An environmental experiment along 18 miles of Georgia highway helps bring eco-friendly technology to pavement across the country.

The Ray

Car manufacturers are hard at work making their new vehicles as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible. But what about the roads themselves?

The Ray, a non-profit foundation for efficient infrastructure and sustainable highways named for CEO Ray C. Anderson, is looking to change the way humans interact with roads. The organization's lofty goal? Zero deaths, zero waste and zero carbon emissions on the highways of the future. The Ray is using an 18-mile stretch of Interstate 85 in Georgia as its incubator, starting at Exit 1, just past the Alabama state line.

No fast food available. This drive-through reads your tire information.

Kia

At the Georgia Visitors' Center you'll find a super-slick WheelRight drive-through tire safety system, which scans your sidewall and can even read the tread depth on your tire. It looks pretty unassuming, just a lane delineated by a few metal poles with sensors embedded into the ground. Two towers at the start of the lane take a picture of your vehicle while a pedestal with a touchscreen is at the end. As a vehicle passes through, the lights and cameras are triggered, capturing up to 20 images of the rotating tire. Within seconds, these images are subsequently processed using sophisticated computer imaging software to automatically "read" the information embossed on the side of the tire. After about 20-ish feet of driving, you'll approach a touchscreen with tire pressure readings and the tread depth of all four of your vehicle's tires. WheelRight can even send this information to your smartphone.

Driving on under-inflated tires puts greater strain on the sidewalls and increases rolling resistance, which results in lower fuel efficiency. Of the 2,500 cars scanned by WheelRight each year, The Ray says 18 percent are rolling on under-inflated tires, which equates to the consumption of 6,000 extra gallons of fuel, as well as 54,000 tons of increased carbon dioxide emissions.

Sunny roads ahead

The Ray has also set up the first publicly accessible solar road. It's just a small, 538 square-foot section of pavement for now, but this solar road powers the entire 5,700 square-foot visitor center building. In the future, these thin, skid-resistant, heavy-duty, photovoltaic panels could be installed directly over existing pavement, most likely on the shoulder or in emergency lanes, in order to get as much sunlight exposure as possible. In sunny states, solar roads could conceivably pump much-needed clean energy right into the grid.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to extrapolate how much a full solar road would cost from just this tiny sample, and no cost studies have been performed just yet. Hopefully as solar panels become more common, the cost will become manageable.

Go ahead and drive. Those solar cells won't break.

The Ray

A traditional solar array stands tall at The Ray, providing juice for an electric vehicle charger. While certainly not as fast as a Tesla Supercharger, this solar-powered Level 3 fast-charging station can provide an 80-percent battery charge in less than 45 minutes for most EVs.

Farther down the highway, a stunning array of landscaping lines the side of the road. Native grasses and plants along this stretch of highway help manage water runoff, keep pollutants from draining into the local watershed and prevent soil erosion. There's even a perennial wheat plot that is said to enrich depleted soil.

The Ray has also just broken ground near Exit 14 for a highway-side solar farm that will allegedly generate 1 megawatt of energy over a year. It's expected to be completed in October 2018.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are just over 220,000 miles of national highways throughout America, and every single one of them contributes to our global warming problem. The Ray is out to prove that we can do better. After all, if our vehicles are getting smarter and cleaner, the roads on which they drive should, too.