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Engineering news

Lancaster University developing energy-harvesting roads

Amit Katwala

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

A project at Lancaster University will try to develop roads that can generate electricity from passing traffic.

A group of engineers led by Mohamed Saafi is working on smart ‘piezoelectric’ ceramics that could be embedded in road surfaces and would be able to harvest and convert vehicle vibration into electrical energy.

“We will be developing new materials to take advantage of the piezoelectric effect where passing vehicles cause stress on the road surface, producing voltage,” said Saafi. “The materials will need to withstand high strengths, and provide a good balance between cost and the energy they produce.”

It’s hoped that under ‘normal’ traffic conditions of around 2,000 to 3,000 cars an hour, the technology will be able to generate up to 2MW per kilometre of road. That would be enough to power between 2,000 and 4,000 street lamps, which currently costs between £1,800 and £3,600 a day. Researchers say the system could be 20% cheaper.

Saafi said the system could also be used to power traffic lights and electric car charging points as well as street lamps. It could also be used for realtime traffic volume monitoring.

The research, which received £195,000 of funding from the European Commission’s SAFERUP programme, is not the first attempt at developing this kind of technology.

In the United States, the California Energy Commission has invested $2m in investigating the technology, while in 2008 an Israeli project built a 100m test road.


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