California funding trial to generate electricity from road vibrations | Smart Highways Magazine: Industry News

California funding trial to generate electricity from road vibrations

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Officials in California have agreed to fund an initiative to generate electrical power from traffic by harnessing road vibrations with the intent of turning the car into a viable source of renewable energy.

“The technology is peculiar but proven,” says a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.  “Devices that convert mechanical force into electricity are used in watches and lighters and are being tested for power generation on sidewalks and runways. A San Francisco nightclub has even leveraged the pulses of a dance floor to power its lights and music.”

The first demonstration is scheduled for the eastern edge of the UC Merced campus. Jian-Qiao Sun, a professor at the university’s engineering school who was awarded $1.3 million from the state, is designing a 200-foot stretch of asphalt that will be sowed with tiny piezoelectric generators (diagram from Wikipedia, pictured).

The inch-wide devices will be stacked within numerous arrays beneath the surface, where each will convert the force of passing cars into a small electrical charge.   Taken together, Sun said, significant energy will be produced.

“There’s a lot of traffic in California and a lot of vibration that just goes into the atmosphere as heat. We can capture that,” said Mike Gravely, a senior electrical engineer and head of the research division at the California Energy Commission. “The technology has been successfully demonstrated.”

The report says the two pilot programs should take two-to-three years to give officials an idea whether the effort should be expanded.

“You can imagine there will be two tracks of these things on the road, and the distance between them will be the length of a typical vehicle axis,” Gravely added. “Eventually, we can put thousands of them on the road, in busy sections.”

It’s hoped the resulting electricity could be used to power nearby lights and signs, stored in batteries or sent to the grid.  Prof Sun explained that the more traffic there is, and the heavier the vehicles are, the more power can be created. Some estimates suggest that just 400 cars an hour would need to pass over the arrays to make them economically viable.

 
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