Environmental researchers are shifting their focus to using advanced materials for roads and pavements that could generate electricity from passing traffic.
Engineers at Lancaster University are working on smart materials like “piezoelectric” ceramics that can be embedded in road surfaces to harvest and convert car vibrations into electrical energy.
The project is led by Professor Mohamed Saafi who will design and optimize energy recovery of 1 to 2 Megawatts per kilometer under ‘normal’ traffic volumes of around 2,000 to 3,000 cars an hour.
This energy, when stored, is the amount needed to power between 2,000 and 4,000 street lamps. This would deliver significant cost savings for taxpayers along with environmental benefits.
Currently, it costs around 15 kilowatts per hour to power a street lamp. 2,000 to 4,000 lights can cost operators approximately $2,430-$4,850 per day. Researchers say the cost of installing and operating new road energy harvesting technology would be around 20 percent of this cost.
"This research is about helping to produce the next generation of smart road surfaces. We will be developing new materials to take advantage of the piezoelectric effect where passing vehicles cause stress on the road surface, producing voltage. The materials will need to withstand high strengths and provide a good balance between cost and the energy they produce. The system we develop will then convert this mechanical energy into electric energy to power things such as street lamps, traffic lights and electric car charging points. It could also be used to provide other smart street benefits, such as real-time traffic volume monitoring,” said Professor Saafi.
This technology is being developed and is undergoing field trials in the UK and other areas of the EU.