Saving energy - one step at a time

An Israeli company says it has the technology to harvest the energy created by people walking and cars driving.

speed walking 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
speed walking 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eddy Grant's song Electric Avenue has come to life: Israeli company Innowattech has built a technology that allows the collection of mechanical energy created by cars, planes, trains and our feet as they tread the surface of a sidewalk. Currently building a pilot plant in Israel, which will be ready within two to three months, Innowattech is testing its technology on real roads, and is also, the company says, developing a system to harvest energy generated by pedestrians walking through New York City subways and busy shopping malls. While the energy collected by people walking over a specially developed system called IPEG amounts to little, about .0002 joules per step (maybe enough to power streetlights), the energy harvested by cars on the street system could potentially power homes in an entire neighborhood. Innowattech's track, made from piezoelectric crystals on the road, can harness energy from the vibration of moving vehicles, or the temperature changes that take place on the road. A stretch of road less than a mile long, four lanes wide and trafficked by about 1,000 vehicles per hour can create about 0.4 Megawatts of power, enough to power 600 homes. Innowattech, founded by Prof. Haim Abramovich from the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, created a sensation last year when the company released news of a pilot plant in Israel to generate energy from cars as they drive down the road. "The company is performing a few pilot demonstrations, mainly inside the Technion," says Abramovich. "We have embedded different types of generators under the surface of the asphalt, and are using trucks to drive over the generators and are harvesting the energy produced by the pressure of the wheels of the trucks. "We are going to have a 10-meter stretch of a two-lane road somewhere in Israel, but they still didn't tell us where we are going to embed our generators to monitor real-life experiments," says Prof. Abramovich. "In a second direction, we have developed a storage system, which takes the energy produced [on the road] and stores it in a capacitor. In the future, we will provide a larger capacitor, and all the energy [we create] will be directed to it," he says. The technology can also be fitted to new roads being built (preferred), or added on to existing road infrastructure. "The good thing for us is that our system does not require space," says Abramovich. "We can produce energy where it is needed, and won't need to use wires to commute the energy." If the electricity-collecting crystals and Innowattech's special storage batteries are laid down in pedestrian byways, Abramovich also imagines that the company will collect much more energy than that created by normal walking. "I think people will start jumping and dancing, knowing that by doing so they'll be creating more energy," he says. The original version of this article first appeared in Israel21c.