Bumpety bump! Bumpety Bump! Screeeech! Beep Beep Beep! The sounds of traffic on the road. A bewildering array of vehicles traveling on a highway, all intent on getting to their destination as quickly as possible. But what if something revolutionary were happening beneath the surface of the road as you rode over it?
Now, instead of just noise pollution and air pollution, angst and frustration, heavy traffic can actually generate clean electricity. Israeli company Innowattech said it has developed an original type of piezoelectric generator (Innowattech Piezoelectric Generator or IPEG), which they inserted under a section of Highway 4 last week to test.
Piezoelectric materials create electricity when they are deformed or stressed, according to the Ra'anana-based company, which is affiliated with the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. The company has developed a special type of generator which converts mechanical energy into electrical energy, Innowattech senior technologist and project manager Dr. Lucy Edery-Azulay explained to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. The generators are inserted five centimeters below the surface of the road, and the pressure from vehicles - especially trucks - rolling over them generates significant quantities of electricity.
"One kilometer of one lane generates 200 kW per hour, assuming there's enough traffic going by [about 600 cars]," Edery-Azulay said. That's potentially enough electricity to power 250 homes along the sides of the road.
One of Innowattech's advantages, she pointed out, was that there was no need for additional major infrastructure, because the electricity was produced close to its consumer.
Last week, the company, in conjunction with the National Roads Company, set up an entire system - IPEGs and batteries - along a stretch of Highway 4 just north of the Hefer Junction. While the system won't be producing electricity for houses for a while, it will produce the electricity needed for traffic lights, street lights and other electrical devices along the road, Edery-Azulay said. A previous pilot study of the system's components had been conducted along Highways 40 and 461, she added.
The generators are buried 5 cm. below the surface so that they don't damage the road in any way and so any maintenance can be done above them. The company discovered that maintenance basically only needs to be done on the first five centimeters of the road.
"Once they're put in, they don't come out," she said, so it's better they aren't disturbed. According to Innowattech's Web site, the generators only need to be repaired or replaced once every 30 years, so they're pretty low-maintenance.
For now, the electricity generated is stored in batteries until used. In the future, Edery-Azulay speculated, they would be connected straight to the grid.
Edery-Azulay said that on average, about 3,000 generators were needed per kilometer at about US $30 per generator. The company's basic financial model indicated the return on investment to be four to seven years without any need for government subsidies. If it looked like there was not enough traffic on the highway to meet that goal, she said, then the company probably wouldn't start putting generators in.
She added that the company was developing even thicker generators that could produce even more electricity per car, and that wouldn't cost much more than the ones they already developed.
Highways are not the only potential application. The company already has a working model for sidewalks and has begun thinking about how to apply them to trains and airplane runways. While runways remain a theoretical concept they are still working out, the company has begun work building generators for trains. The sidewalk model is "more of a gimmick to raise awareness," but "could also be used to power a specific light, for instance," Edery-Azulay said.
Domestic and international interest has been tremendous since the company launched its Web site about a year ago, according to Edery-Azulay. The company had scheduled a demonstration for the press in late December, but Operation Cast Lead broke out and it decided to postpone it.
The company's CEO is Haim Abramovich, an associate professor in the faculty of aerospace engineering at the Technion, where Edery-Azulay also teaches. The chief technology officer is Dr. Eugeny Tsikhotsky, and Uri Amit is the company chairman.
So the next time you drive up Highway 4 past the Hefer Junction, there's no need even to stop thinking about your day or listening to the radio to produce electricity as you go by.