Monday, December 15, 2008

Power-Generating Roads

Okay, another try at blogging. I'm not going to promise to keep this updated as much as I would like, but I'll be trying.

Recently, I have been fascinated with piezoelectric materials (materials which generate electricity when deformed, or alternately deform when electricity is applied to them - follow the link for more detail) and with heel-strike generators (which is a broader term covering both piezoelectric and more traditional mechanical harnessing of the movement of people) as ways of harnessing the power that people naturally put out through their day. Due to this, I was fascinated when a story about Israel converting 100 meters (110 yards for those not fluent in metric) of highway to a piezoelectric generator arrived in my inbox.

This is a really fascinating possibility for harnessing existing traffic into a useful source of power, but it has a couple of downsides in my not-so-humble opinion. The first is that this could very easily increase the energy required to travel over this section of highway, which means that we are turning a relatively scarce resource (gasoline) into something that we have many other ways to generate, many of which are already clean. Sure, the idea is that it is incidentally generated, but that becomes less true if we increase gasoline consumption to generate the power. The second issue is that I think it is fundamentally irresponsible to become more dependent on people driving, at least until hybrids and electrical cars are the rule rather than the exception.

That said, the possibilities of these materials seem practically limitless, including to be used in areas of high pedestrian traffic (running a subway system from the energy of its passengers? Las Vegas casinos running from the power of all the people walking their floors? Dance clubs powering themselves with the energy of dancers?) and perhaps even to power electrical cars, or NEVs within smaller communities. In that case, where we would have electrical vehicles powering themselves, even if they get a little less mileage, it seems to be a very powerful tool. 

I know that I am looking forward to the results of this test. 

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  • Regarding your concern and that of the critics of the Israeli system, that a road made of piezoelectric materials "would basically increase the traction force cars would have to exert on the road, as the surface of the street would resemble that of a mud-covered area", I think you're right. I believe it would amount to an invisible energy tool booth, sapping your vehicle for the road system. That may or may not suit your politics or pocket book. However, here's another idea. Instead of making the road deformable, or "squishy", having the same effect as lowering your tire pressure while on the surface, make your already "squishy" tires out of piezoelectric materials and keep the roads hard. It could seriously offset lost millage from low tire pressure. You could do both I suppose, but remember there is an optimal amount of squishiness you want where the rubber meets the road, and we're already there as far as conventional materials go. I see a better application in the electric vehicle consumer market. EV's are energy misers and they could really profit from this technology built into the tires, not the road.

    By Blogger Mike, at 11:34 PM  

  • That's a fascinating idea. Rubber lined with piezoelectric materials so the standard deformation of the tires helps generate power for the EV itself. I'm going to have to do some research on that one.

    By Blogger Just_A_Rat, at 4:55 AM  

  • Nice to see a new entry. I'll take'em when I can get'em.

    Very cool topic. Was it you or an article someone forwarded that touched on the potential of shoe companies putting this kind of material in shoes to collectively power something?

    Also, you should totally bring this up at your next meeting for use in the Mouse parks. Imagine those millions of visitors every year, with those billions of footsteps, each generating a tiny bit of power toward something. Even just a small section of the parks with this material in the ground/flooring would have awesome results.

    By Blogger Reay, at 9:23 AM  

  • Yeah, that is one of the reasons this fascinates me. The near-limitless applications.

    By Blogger Just_A_Rat, at 7:02 PM  

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