Road Surface Could Generate Power

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The notorious traffic of Los Angeles could generate electricity via crystals in the road surface. A pilot study aims to replicate existing set-ups that turn footsteps into power.

The study will try to exploit piezoelectricity, which takes advantage of the fact that mechanical stress applied to some materials including crystals will build up an electric charge. The BBC notes it’s most commonly used in cigarette lighters and some push-button barbecues.

The concept of using piezoelectricity in floor surfaces is already used on several small projects such as railway station platforms, with people walking on special tiles and powering electronic displays or lighting.

After several years of discussions, California now plans to test the idea on vehicles by installing piezoelectric elements on road surfaces including one next to a parking lot at the University of California’s Merced campus. The plan is to embed the crystals in a layer above the concrete, then cover them in a nylon-based surface both to protect the crystals and to keep the road driveable.

The studies will show how practical the idea is, but reported estimates suggest that if the technology works, a 10-mile stretch of highway could produce enough power for the city of Burbank.