Harvesting Electricity From Moving Vehicles

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News Posted: Fri, Dec 12 2008 9:31 PM
"Parasitic energy harvesting" might sound like it is part of a Sci-Fi plot where alien beings feed off of the energy emanating from human bodies, but it is actually a means of reclaiming wasted energy. An Israeli company, Innowattech, says that it holds the patents to technologies that can harvest the mechanical energy from vehicles traveling on surfaces such as roadways, railways, and airport runways, and convert that energy to electricity. Not only does Innowattech have the technology, but it wants to implement it into our highway, rail, and airport infrastructures.

The technology "is based on piezoelectric generators; the piezoelectric effect converts mechanical strain into electrical current or voltage." In other words, when a piezoelectric material is deformed, the energy from the deformation of the material gets converted into electricity. Innowattech has created three different versions of what it calls the Innowattech Piezo Electric Generator (IPEG): a Roadway Generator, a Railroad Generator, and a Runway Generator. Innowattech claims that its IPEGs can "harvest energy from weight, motion, vibration and temperature changes."



While it might not be noticeable to the casual observer, whenever a vehicle passes over a roadway, the roadway actually deforms somewhat beneath the vehicle. If you have ever had your foot run over by a car, you have experienced a version of this--albeit, likely a painful one. The same thing happens to rail beds and runways when trains and planes pass over them--these surfaces deform slightly as well. Innowattech wants to implant networks of its IPEGs into these surfaces so that vehicles will also deform the piezoelectric generators as well, which in turn would generate electricity. In fact, the heavier a vehicle is and the faster it is moving, the more energy gets transferred to the IPEGs. Innowattech claims that 1km of a railroad can produce up to 150kW of electricity per hour; and 1km of roadway or runway can produce up to 0.5mW (500kW) of electricity per hour. The electricity harvested by the IPEG network could be added to local electrical grids.



The roadway and airport IPEGs can also "record the weight, frequency and speed of passing vehicles as well as the spacing between vehicles in real time." This can create "smart roads" and airports where the data can be used to help manage traffic and alert drivers and emergency responders.

What makes this such an innovative approach is that it doesn't force drivers or car manufacturers to have to make any significant changes, such as switching over to electric cars or other fossil fuel alternatives. By the same token, it makes no difference to the IPEGs what is powering the vehicles passing overhead, so as automobile engines continue to evolve over time away from fossil fuels, the IPEGs will continue harvesting their energy. It remains to be seen, however, if this "green"  technology will ever see real-world applications.
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tanka12345 replied on Fri, Dec 12 2008 11:45 PM

Good Idea, but it'll probably be too costly to implement on old roads.

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3vi1 replied on Sat, Dec 13 2008 8:46 AM

How much do these panels deform in comparison with normal asphalt? I'm all for energy reclamation, but not if it's going to make your gas mileage worse.

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michsmith replied on Sat, Dec 13 2008 1:53 PM

I'd be interested in knowing if this technology is feasible to be implemented at places like racetracks and speedways i.e. NASCAR. Potentially a good initial trial method and significant private investment were it to work properly.

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CH Nathan replied on Sat, Dec 13 2008 2:55 PM

Two things wrong with this. First, the nitpick:

kilowatts (kW) are an instantaneous measurement of power.

Therefore energy is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), meaning kilowatts *times* hours, not kilowatts per hour.

Second, the real flaw:

Energy cannot be created. As stated in the article, all the energy 'generated' by these pads would come from the mechanical energy of the car. What happens when you withdraw mechanical energy from a car? It slows down. To prevent that, additional fuel would have to be used. Essentially you'd be adding a whole pile of tiny gasoline-powered generators to the system, at significant infrastructure cost.

It might be argued that the amount of energy taken from the car is insignificant; but if that's the case, so is the useful electricity generated. I could see this potentially being useful for things like powering streetlights in remote areas, but I can't see how it could possibly be a "green" way to supplement the grid.

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I Steve replied on Sat, Dec 13 2008 4:16 PM

Vehicular traffic already loses energy to conventional roadway. Normally, this energy is just dissipated - lost. The real question is whether cars passing over these "pads" lose more or less energy than when passing over traditional roadway.

If it's equal or less, otherwise dissipated energy could be recovered and used for something productive; this could be a winner. If the cars lose more energy to the pads than to today's roads, we're all going to pay.

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Dave_HH replied on Sat, Dec 13 2008 11:03 PM

JimMcDosh, why do you always pop in here after a digg article posts and throw that URL in there?

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Dave_HH:

JimMcDosh, why do you always pop in here after a digg article posts and throw that URL in there?

But Dave he always has such thought provoking posts. I can't picture him going around to popular Digg storys and spamming his website.

 

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gregjenx replied on Wed, Dec 17 2008 9:12 AM

CH Nathan you make good points. I came up with a rudimentary solution similar to the one being proposed and ran into the problems you specify.

I realized the opportunity arises if it is only used where vehicles must slow down such as on steep descents, stop signs, red lights, prior to toll booths, speed limit changes, etc. In this case you could actually assist vehicles in slowing down and generate even more mechanical energy.

 

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khely replied on Thu, Jan 22 2009 4:03 AM

i just want to know some details about this harvesting electricity from moving vehicles if that kind of piezoelectric generator if it is possible to install it inside the campus (i mean in school). Instead of moving vehicles it's the footstep (just like in Japan). thnx a lot!!:)

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