Green

Energy-generating pavement: An untapped renewable?

From the neat new things department: An emerging startup called Pavegen has just installed squares of energy-generating pavement in London. Usually, when you think of converting kinetic energy into electricity, wind turbines and hydroelectric dams spring to mind. But people’s steps — thousands upon thousands of them a day — utilize and channel kinetic energy too.

That’s the idea behind Pavegen’s flagship product, a slab of concrete that harnesses kinetic energy whenever it is stepped on. This energy, created by 5 millimeters of flex in the material, is then either stored by lithium polymer batteries contained within the slabs or transmitted immediately to streetlights and other electronics located close by. The current model, made from stainless steel, recycled car tires and recycled aluminum, also includes a lamp embedded in the pavement that lights up every time a step is converted into energy (using only 5 percent of the energy generated).

In an effort to keep the production of the pavement as green and sustainable as possible, Pavegen is partnering with Ryburn Rubber Limited and Advanced LEDs (which has also invested in the idea) to make sure that its components create as small an environmental impact as possible. Launched in July of this year, the company spun out of a project at Loughborough University. It is actively looking for investors.

The average square of pavement produces about 2.1 watts of electricity. And according to Pavegen, any one square of pavement in a high-foot traffic area can see 50,000 steps a day. Based on this data, only five units of Pavegen pavement can be enough to keep the lights on at a bus stop all night. The company, led by 24-year old founder Laurence Kemball-Cook, says it eventually wants its slabs to power automatic doors, ticket machines, neon signs, and even computers and major appliances.

Pavegen isn’t targeting its product exclusively at municipalities. One of its big ideas is to have stores located on busy sidewalks install them in front of their locations to power their signage or any internal electronics. To encourage this adoption, the company says it will brand its slabs for its commercial customers.

The slabs just installed in East London happen to be green — appropriate as a cleantech solution — but they come in a variety of colors. The company believes the embedded lamp is important to inform passersby of their contribution to the clean energy movement. Kemball-Cook believes this will not only help educated the public about the need for innovative energy solutions, but also make them think more carefully about their energy use.

The startup plans to roll out more Pagevgen units in the United Kingdom in the next year, but it envisions installing them one day in Times Square in New York — think of all the electronic displays it could help power there — and other frequented locations in the U.S. One of the ideas pitched on its web site is to install slabs in subway turnstiles where thousands of people — about 36,000 per hour — walk a day to power station electronics. The patent for this application of the technology is still pending.

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