By CAROLINE LOBSINGER
SANDPOINT — Not only did Solar Roadways win Innovation Nation’s “Mo Madness” competition, the Sandpoint-based company is also poised to see the first mass production of their solar panels.
In celebration of its 100th episode — and a nod to March Madness — the Saturday morning television show identified 16 of the staff’s favorite inventions featured on the program that highlights solutions to real problems. By the end of the bracket-style competition, Solar Roadways was sitting atop the tournment as Twitter voters’ favorite.
While the contest took part at the same time as their long-awaited anniversary trip — a rare vacation for the pair who typically work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, Scott and Julie Brusaw dove into the challenge.
“Even though there was no prize, we think it’s just really important to show the world is ready for Solar Roadways and so we worked hard on it,” said Julie Brusaw, who along with her husband, Scott, came up with the concept for solar-powered roads which also could be used as a way to charge electronic vehicles and generate power.
By the time the competition ended, Solar Roadways was the winner by a large margin.
“Out of the best of the best, we were picked,” said Julie Brusaw. Everybody had the same opportunity to show their support and we’re just so blessed to have such wonderful support.’
The competition is just the latest news building around the company, which will likely see mass production of its panels this summer thanks to E-Mek Technologies, which has been making Solar Roadways’ circuit board for years. The company recently signed on to be a strategic partner with the Sandpoint company to produce the panels.
Scott Brusaw said the Dayton, Ohio-based company is working with glass companies to get the glass made to the Sandpoint company’s specificiations. The goal, he added, is to be up and running soon and be making the 1,000 panels per day this summer — that compares to the three panels per day that Solar Roadways can make at its Sandpoint facility.
Negotiations are ongoing with a second company, this one closer to home, with conversations starting with interested parties in Europe, Asia and the Middle East as well as elsewhere in the United States.
Solar Roadways still plans to base its headquarters in Sandpoint, but to let others build the solar panels, freeing them to focus on research and development and integration of the technology in areas such as EVs and charging of vehicles via the roads.
“There’s so much to do and so many people to meet with that it’s really better if we supervise other people in the manufacturing and we’re able to focus on adding to it,” she said.
With problems connected to GPS, which can be off by several miles, or if a vehicle loses connection to the satellite, Scott Brusaw said Solar Roadways is getting a lot of attention as a potential solution.
“If we put panel down and lock it into road, it has a fixed longitude and latitude,” he said. “It’s not moving. It knows exactly where it is and it knows exactly where the car is that is running over it, so if the device is inside the car, that controls the car, the road can guide it to keep it in the lanes. the road knows if there’s a traffic jam up ahead and can reroute it, all kinds of things.”
While they don’t want to name many of the companies and individuals to whom they’re talking citing the need for confidentiality in the ongoing talks. Everyone, however, they said they’ve been talking to is excited about being a part of Solar Roadways’ vision and the potential for the future.
Even a postcard campaign — Underground Postcards — is getting into the act. As part of the campaign, individuals are encouraged to end postcard of support to someone who inspires them.
“Things like this are part of the journey that come to you, you would never have expected that and it just brightens your day, that people are just taking their time to encourage us and thank us for working so hard to save our planet,” Julie Brusaw said. “it’s really sweet and it really means a lot to us”
In less than 10 years, Solar Roadways has gone from its first contract to mass production just around the corner. (As a side note, when they got the first contract with the Federal Highway Administration in 2009, Scott Brusaw told officials he didn’t need $100,000 to have white papers written on whether the concept was possible. When he asked where he could return the money, they said it would be too much trouble so he told them he’d build a prototype with the rest of the money if that was OK. They said it was.)
Solar Roadways is now on its third contract with the FHA, with traction testing and impact resistence testing already completed and sheer testing taking place now. Marquette University, which is conducting the test, had to rebuild the machine it designed to twist the panel apart “like an Oreo cookie” — the best way they figured to test how much pressure the panels could take.
Nothing happened at 10,000 pounds. They rebuilt the machine and tried 20,000 pounds. Nothing happened. When they took the machine apart to see if they could garner any insight, they found that all the metal stops to hold the panel in place were all bent and mangled. They again rebuilt the machine and finally got the information they needed. In comparison, asphalt fails are several hundred pounds, Scott Brusaw said.
The Brusaws said they’re excited all their hard work is so close to paying off in a relatively short period of time.
“I think we’ve started a revolution,” Julie Brusaw said. “Really, the world is embracing this and this is what we believe is going to be the future. I think we’re moving toward the autonomous EV, that’s where the car industry is going, and we can help that happen and people see it. they realize this is a way to help halt climate change.”
Scott Brusaw agreed.
“It’s neat because it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that it was just an idea that we had no idea whether it was even possible and now here we are going into mass manufacturing.”
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.