How is California Turning its Heavy Traffic into Electricity?

Rush hours, Downtown LA, California.

Credit: Flickr / Prayitno / CC BY 2.0

A new wave of renewable transformation is making crossroads, even as Las Vegas streetlights are being powered by nonstop tourist foot traffic, it is the Hawaiian homes that are powered by electricity produced by the natural sway of waves. Can the soul-crushing freeway traffic in California be transformed into renewable energy? This is the premise that researchers in California are researching so as to harness clean energy.

Capturing kinetic energy (vibrations) produced by cars and trucks and harnessing it to generate electric power could be a reality in the future. According to sources, the California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved around $2.3 million in funding for two projects which have the potential to transform California’s congested freeways into a source of renewable energy.

According to the CEC, the University of California, Merced, and PYRO-E, LLC would receive grants to demonstrate electrical harvesting systems embedded into roads. These projects would use piezoelectricity. What is piezoelectricity? It is the electricity generated when pressure is applied to specific materials. So, small piezoelectric crystals that are embedded in the road surface could capture the kinetic energy to be stored in batteries nearby. This stored electricity would later be used to power electronic signage and lighting along that particular stretch of road and any excesses would be sent back to the main power grid.

Mike Gravely, an electrical engineer with the CEC reiterated that there is heavy traffic with a lot of vibration on roads in California which can be captured. He also said that the technology had been successfully demonstrated.

It was in an effort to reduce the greenhouse emissions that California had set a state-wide goal in 2015 of achieving 50% of electricity to be derived from renewable energy sources by the year 2030. The plan to help California achieve the goal was to use freeways as an input source of energy. Piezoelectric power, much unlike solar or wind power is not dependent on sunlight or specific weather conditions. The new projects would also help to determine if the basic technology would be cost-effective on a large scale.

The motorists may not reach the destinations faster, but at the end of the day, the car vibrations could definitely contribute to clean energy.

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