On a highway near Den Bosch, The Netherlands, a new form of solar technology is being tested on what is usually a mundane piece of infrastructure: a noise barrier.
Used to dampen the loud sounds of highway traffic for neighborhoods and businesses located alongside busy roads, noise barriers can improve the quality of life for those around the highways, but they also take up space and can be a bit of an eyesore.
Engineers at the Eindhoven University of Technology have come up with a solution that makes the barriers an attractive part of the landscape as well as a source of clean energy. The technology that is behind these new solar noise barriers is called luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs).
LSCs are colored panels that receive light and direct it to the edges of the panels where there are traditional solar cells that harness the solar energy.
“Thanks to their many colors the LSC are visually very attractive, which makes them ideal for use in many different situations in the built environment”, said Michael Debije of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, who has carried out years of research into these panels. “Further benefits are that the principle used is low cost, they can be produced in any desired, regular color, is robust, and the LSCs will even work when the sky is cloudy. That means it offers tremendous potential.”
A year-long test project was launched on June 18 on two sections of noise barriers, each 5 meters wide and 4.5 meters high. The barriers are partially covered in the LSCs and partially covered in semi-transparent panels holding conventional solar cells, so that they can compare the performances of the two technologies.
The test will evaluate how much electricity the LSC panels can generate under various conditions as well as how well they stand up to any vandalism, as often happens with any outdoor infrastructure.
The researchers are hopeful that the solar noise barriers will prove to be a beneficial new approach to a typically boring structure. Initial research shows that 1 kilometer of the solar noise barriers can generate enough electricity to power 50 homes.
The success of this test could show how solar cells can be used to both power and beautify urban environments.