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The Associated Press July 20, 2011, 3:20PM ET

N. Idaho company gets $750K for solar parking lot

A northern Idaho company that aims to transform U.S. highways into a vast, energy-producing network is getting $750,000 from the federal government for the next phase of its project: a solar parking lot.

Solar Roadways of Sagle announced Wednesday that it won a Small Business Innovation Research grant for the project from the Federal Highway Administration.

With the money, company founders Scott and Julie Brusaw aim to create a prototype parking lot for testing, but their real dream is for a road system built of 12-foot-by-12-foot solar panels rather than traditional asphalt.

"This will give us the funding needed to continue our research and development," said Brusaw, in a statement from the company distributed through the Idaho Department of Commerce.

Previously, Solar Roadways received $100,000 from the federal government for its startup project, which remains in its infancy but offers an alluring alternative to helping supply electricity amid increasing demand.

The company envisions panels encased in sturdy, break-proof glass and connected by underground wires. Its so-called "Solar Roadway" is made of structurally engineered solar panels that are driven upon.

They contain LEDs for illuminating the road lines from beneath the surface and a heating element to prevent snow and ice accumulation in rugged northern climates like Idaho's far north.

There's also microprocessor board embedded in the panel for real-time control and communications with those controlling the power grid.

Brusaw, an electrical engineer, is hopeful that after completing this next phase, he'll be closer to his goal of commercial production of panels for parking lots, driveways, walkways and other surfaces in locations like playgrounds, amusement parks, patios, bike paths and even airports.

It's in these places where the products will have to be tested before the company is ready to move on to highways that will require even more-robust durability standards, he said.

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