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LA crystals turning cars into energy

16/08/2017
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Los Angeles has often been dubbed the ‘Car Capital of the World’. It has more cars than any other US city, but of course this results in some of the worst traffic in the world. In fact, in 2016 it was the global leader in urban congestion. 

But what if all these cars which spend so much time on the road could be used to generate electricity? 

The California Energy Commission is investing $2 million into two pilot studies of technology which uses crystals embedded in the tarmac to capture energy via vehicle vibrations. 
This scheme is part of a wider effort toward cleaner air in California, with a current goal of providing half of the state’s energy supply through renewable electricity by 2030. 

Piezoelectric crystals generate an electrical charge when compressed and it is estimated by scientists that if they were positioned on a 10 mile stretch they could generate enough electricity to power a population of over 100,000.

Piezoelectricity may sound like a futuristic concept to most, but it is not a new technology. Electronic cigarettes use piezoelectric crystals to create a flame. Laptop microphones also use the crystals to convert the sound vibrations in voices into electrical signals that can be processed by the computers.

This type of technology enables energy to be captured by vehicles on a much larger scale than ever before by the California’s Energy Commission are extremely positive about the idea and believes this scheme can help the state in their goal of becoming more energy efficient.

A similar type of scheme has already started around the world. PaveGen has used a similar concept which turns footsteps into energy. In Rio de Janerio, 200 tiles placed under a football pitch converts children’s running into energy which is stored in batteries in turn powering the pitches floodlights. Similarly, tiles in a Heathrow airport corridor turn travellers’ footsteps into energy illuminating the coloured lights on the adjacent wall.

renewable energy transport Los Angeles

A pilot programme is aimed to be run in Los Angeles at the end of 2018. This will assess how many of the coin sized devices will be needed and how deep into the concrete they need to be embedded, in addition to assessing which locations would be best. If the pilots prove successful, they could be rolled out more widely across Los Angeles and the whole of California.

There still, however, remain people who are sceptical about what a crystal energy scheme can achieve. Urban Architect Peter Calthorpe, who has long been campaigning for greener cities, says he is “still pretty sceptical about fancy gadget solutions,” pointing out “there are lots of technologies that capture a bit of energy here and there but it is not the answer.”

Fircroft supplies engineering professionals to many of the biggest renewables companies in the world. To find out how Fircroft can help your renewables business, contact us today.

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LA crystals turning cars into energy - Time to read 3 min
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