Researchers are assessing the possibility of using advanced materials for roads and pavements, creating the potential to generate electricity from passing traffic.
Engineers from Lancaster University, UK, are developing smart materials such as piezoelectric ceramics, which, when embedded in road surfaces, would be able to harvest and convert vehicle vibrations into electrical energy.
Led by Professor Mohamed Saafi, the project will design and optimise the energy recovery of around one to two megawatts per kilometre whilst under typical traffic volumes – around 2,000 to 3,000 cars an hour.
“This research is about helping to produce the next generation of smart road surfaces,” Saafi said.
When stored, this energy could power between 2,000 and 4,000 street lamps. In addition to providing environmental advantages, this form of energy harvesting would also deliver economical savings for taxpayers.
It costs 15p (~€0.17) a kilowatt hour to power a street lamp. Researchers say that this new alternative, including the cost of installation and operation, would be around 20% of the cost.
Saafi added: “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.”
The research is part of the SAFERUP – Sustainable, Accessible, Safe, Resilient and Smart Urban Pavements) programme, which is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 and led by the University of Bologna, Italy.
Lancaster University’s energy harvesting project has received around £195,000 in funding.
Once the technology has been developed, it will undergo field trials in both the UK and EU.