In the United States, populous and busy states like California are facing traffic congestion problems at all hours of the day. Scientists in California are working hard to devise a method to generate energy by using these traffic jams on the state’s crowded highways into clean electricity. California has set a target (California Renewables Portfolio Standard) of generating 33% of its total energy requirement from renewables by the year 2020.
It is a well known scientific fact that Piezoelectric crystals generate an electrical charge when they are compressed. The California Energy Commission has decided to invest $2 million in research of exploring whether the phenomenon of these crystals with help of a proper technology can be used on a large scale to generate clean electricity. The scientists believe thousands of the crystals could be embedded in road tarmac across California state highways and roads and can be used to convert mechanical energy from passing vehicles. They estimate Piezoelectric crystals positioned at strategic locations on a 10-mile stretch of a highway can generate enough electricity to power the city of Burbank, which is having a population of over 100,000.
The energy commission of the California state is currently in the process of choosing the right university or a specialist private company to explore the potential investment costs of such an undertaking, and also to discover whether the crystals laid along the road under the tarmac can withstand the weight of traffic over a number of years. The energy commission has also decided to conduct smaller tests / trials of the project before going in for a bigger investment.
Scientists are very well aware that, the technology works, but the state needs an assurance or wants to figure out whether it can really produce the high returns expected from it in terms of energy without costing too much. The concern is similar attempts on a large scale in Tokyo, Italy and Israel appear to have either failed or been dropped. Though it is successful on smaller scales such as since 2009, all the displays at East Japan Railway Company’s Tokyo Railway station have been powered by people walking on the piezoelectric walkways.
Another factor which is being keenly studied is if at all the crystals are to be laid then which would last longer: the pavement or the devices carrying crystals, as highways need to be resurfaced every 10 to 30 years depending on the amount of traffic and climate conditions.