California may use vibrational energy of driving to generate power

Apr 27, 2011 by Katie Gatto weblog
Car traffic

(PhysOrg.com) -- When you get into your car, for the daily commute or for a relaxing weekend visit to a friend house you give off energy. Not just the energy from the fossil fuels that you burn, but a different kind of energy, vibrational energy. Most of us do not give that energy a second thought, unless we're trying to do something that requires fine motor skills, such as putting the lid back onto your slightly deformed cup of scalding hot coffee, but it is there.

It is also a potential source of a green, and . California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a democrat from the Burbank district, hopes to help his home state to use it effectively. He has put in motion a legislation proposing that, if it passes, would create a designed to capture those vibrations.

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The system, if implemented, would place sensors under a stretch of California roads. These sensors would be able to collect the vibrations caused by traffic and covert them into power. This system, know as piezoelectric generation, has the potential to add significantly to the , if the system were implemented on a larger scale. A potential test patch, a one mile stretch of a two lane highway, would be able to create enough new electricity to power roughly 500 homes for an entire year, or give juice to 120 electrical vehicles each day. Not to mention the powering of street lights and traffic signals.

The proposal does not divert funds from any areas, since California regularly sets aside funds for these types of projects. It also would not represent any interruption to the flow of traffic in the state, since the would only be placed under the ground during the regular repaving of roads. No word yet on when this bill will go to a vote or when residents of the state of California can expect to see these changes, should the bill pass in the state legislation.

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alec123456789
4.3 / 5 (9) Apr 27, 2011
The article is a bit sketchy on the details... It sounds like the idea is to compress and relax a piezo-transducer...

It's one thing to use this to power street lights or street signs where it would be too expensive to run power lines. But all this will do is add rolling more resistance to the road, thereby causing vehicles to burn more fuel.

If the idea is to capture acoustic vibrations then the money would be better spent improving to road surface so as not to MAKE those vibrations. There is more potential in road improvements to save gas then to generate electricity.
PatrickSmith1
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 27, 2011
Alec is right. You don't get something for nothing in physics!!!

This is a rediculous idea similar to one where the Chinese will harvest wind energy from passing trains! Wait I have a great idea... lets plug in giant fans and then use bigger fan/turbines to collect the free wind power from them! hehe..

Patrick
nevermark
3 / 5 (4) Apr 27, 2011
I am with Alec and PatrickSmith on this, but I can go even further.

Let's require all cars and trains to pull large rolling wheels full of magnets so they can generate the very electricity they needs to drive and ALSO charge up batteries so that each person's house can be powered by their car when it is in the garage for free!
antialias
3.8 / 5 (4) Apr 27, 2011
However, you have to admit it would be an almost devilishly clever ploy to increase tax revenue via increased gas cosnumption.

Roadside sensors, lights and signs might be the only use. But then again: Running a power line isn't all that expensive when compared to embedding and connecting all those generators.
Pyle
3.8 / 5 (9) Apr 27, 2011
@alec: The vibrations are there. Absorbing them into a piezoelectric device to generate electricity shouldn't worsen gas mileage. It would be important that the engineers not design the roads to maximize the vibration, but if they are merely turning wasted energy, i.e. the vibrations, into electricity, what is the problem?

@PS: Ever stood next to a roadway when a car passed by? It makes wind. On a busy roadway converting that wind using turbines slows the winds, resulting in more gas spent by the next car. On a train track where the wind dissipates between trains the energy is lost to the environment. Why not capture it? How is it a different idea from regenerative braking?

@nm: You go to the ridiculous. But there is a valid point to be made from it. Our goal must be to harness wasted energy, not to waste more energy to recover some small percent of it.
freemind
1 / 5 (3) Apr 27, 2011
listen to Pyle, he is right 100%
Stechly
1 / 5 (3) Apr 27, 2011
Once I thought it would be great idea, if there would be some turbines in waterpipes.

But seriously, I can't imagine a city powered with such technology, but I think it's a good idea for street lamps, traffic lights etc. And energy harvesting device don't have to be under the road, it can be also inside the acoustic screens (correct me if I'm wrong).
@Alec - Wouldn't introduction of such surfaces more expensive than harvesting energy? Isn't it just cheaper? After all it's impossible to eliminate all the vibrations, so there will be alweys something to harvest. I don't really have any professional knowledge in this field, so I'm just thinking aloud. If you know any papers or websites about it, I would be grateful if you share it with me/us.
emsquared
3 / 5 (3) Apr 27, 2011
But all this will do is add rolling more resistance to the road, thereby causing vehicles to burn more fuel.

I may be wrong, I'm not really familiar with the principles of a piezo transducer, but it sounds like these would be embedded within the paving material, or in a layer beneath it, not sitting on top of it... and I'm not by any means saying it's a good idea - if it's coming from the Golden-bankrupt State of California, it's probably not. Just saying I think you misunderstood it's implementation...
PatrickSmith1
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 27, 2011
Sorry, but harvesting wind from passing cars would just increase wind resistance and make the cars burn more fuel to go forward.

You don't get something for nothing!!!!!!!!

Isis
5 / 5 (5) Apr 27, 2011
Not to disparage any R&D investment, but it would be *much* more cost and energy effective to replace 100s or 1000s miles of street lighting with high efficiency lights (LEDs) than to setup 1 mile with piezoelectric power. Now, this could be my northeast pothole-bias, but think about any reasonable piezoelectric efficiency material sandwiched between cement and asphalt, run with fine wires to collect to modest voltages generated by each car passing... then imagine the faults that will develop.

More green could be made from this investment than green piezo!
Pyle
3 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2011
@Isis: I think you are dead on, but I would say no to the LED part. LED lights aren't quite there yet. In fact the ones I have tried for lighting requirements similar to street lighting suck, frankly. But there are still other options that are much better than some of what is out there on street corners now.

@PS: I think you are responding to my comment so... Yeah, did you even read my comment? I said exactly what you said. The train situation is different because of the time between trains. (These are stationary turbines, not ones attached to the train/car btw. Very different situations.)
robbor
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2011
how about generators in shock absorbers?
Mahal_Kita
1 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2011
Hm.. Questions, questions.. The most efficient piezo transducer needs how much pressure to hm.. spark? And how much energy are we talking about per element?
Mahal_Kita
4 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2011
how about generators in shock absorbers?


Two post graduates from MIT have proposed harvesting energy under pavements from walking pedestrians. Also with piezoelectric transducers. The idea itself is several years old.
trekgeek1
4 / 5 (4) Apr 28, 2011


@PS: Ever stood next to a roadway when a car passed by? It makes wind. On a busy roadway converting that wind using turbines slows the winds, resulting in more gas spent by the next car. On a train track where the wind dissipates between trains the energy is lost to the environment. Why not capture it? How is it a different idea from regenerative braking?



The train must push that air out of the way. That's what causes the wind. Using turbines to capture that wind, thus slowing it down, may make it harder for the train to push it out of the way in the first place.
loboy
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2011
This is a band-aid approach. The energy should be conserved higher up the chain. Maybe stiffen the road better to improve fuel economy.

As far as the article goes, it states that this "vibrational energy" is renewable. I beg to differ, at least for the cars on the road aspect. This is physics 101. The cars are burning fossils fuels to vibrate the road!

Well, I hope they raise taxes on gasoline to build this nonsense.
CreepyD
4.3 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2011
About the LED lights mentioned - They used overhead LED lights in the F1 Grand Prix (Chinese one I believe?), and they were REALLY bright. From the drivers eye view, it still looked like daylight until you looked up.
Maybe we need something better than tarmac by now that will make less vibrations. Tarmac is like 150 years old or something!
ricarguy
3 / 5 (6) Apr 28, 2011
This assemblyman in California is a moron. Yes those commenting above are absolutely correct. Spend a bunch of money to reclaim the extra energy that will be taken from the cars which would then be getting poorer gas mileage. No wonder CA is broke, with stupid ideas that can only gain such traction in government and no where else.

That's why capitalism will always work better overall than socialism or communism. Capitalism responds to real results and those making the decisions are stakeholders in those results.

The problem with most "renewable" energy schemes is that the energy is such low density, that it usually isn't worth the cost and effort of implementation and distribution. In this case they aren't "renewing" much of anything, they are mostly stealing it from passers by which in turn need to use more in the first place.
Kingsix
1 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2011
One area that already has to do with power that these may be able to be used quickly and easily is power transformers. All transformers emit a vibration, maybe a nice way to recoup that loss.
TrinityComplex
3 / 5 (4) Apr 28, 2011
To everyone saying that the cars will become less gas efficient because of these; The devices will not change the road surface at all. If you've ever stood on the side of a busy freeway you've felt the vibrations that the cars cause. The only thing this would do is turn those vibrations into energy, not make the road more rough. They could put these on the side of the road, but much of the vibrational energy would be lost to the ground.

The LA area is great for this because it has some of the busiest roads in the US. Each device may only generate a small amount of energy, but think about the collective magnitude of hundreds of the devices. The idea is out of the box, sure, but more conventional ideas haven't been working all that great. Save the criticism and speculation and watch to see if it works. Yeah, it might take a little extra money, but the status quo isn't working all that well, so at very least this is something different.
CSharpner
4 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2011
A potential test patch, a one mile stretch of a two lane highway, would be able to create enough new electricity to power roughly 500 homes for an entire year

This statement makes no sense if you don't also provide the amount of time you're /harvesting/ the energy. In other words, how long do you have to harvest energy from the road to provide enough to power 500 homes for a year? 10 years?, 1 year? 1 month? 1 day?, 1 hour?, 1 second? Obviously, this is important... so important that stating a /time/ of running houses /without/ stating a time for harvesting is meaningless.
CSharpner
2.3 / 5 (4) Apr 28, 2011
Save the criticism and speculation and watch to see if it works

Not necessary. It's a simple thermodynamics problem. You look at the bigger picture (energy input, energy collection, loss of energy use by the cars). This is the equivalent of putting a windmill on the roof of your car. Sure, you can generate electricity with the windmill, but the extra drag the windmill creates consumes more fuel to overcome than you save by the capture.

Converting vibrations into electricity is the micro-equivalent of the MIT thing that captures energy from pedestrians, which is identical to another that captures energy from passing cars by making a road platform that is compressed down by cars. They all reduce the efficiency of the care (or person) they're capturing energy from, causing them to use more energy to go the same distance had the harvesting device not been there. The net result is overall less efficiency of that greater machine (car + harvester).

another perpetual motion scam.
J-n
3 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2011
I know in this article they talk about vibration, but what about compression?

The cars have mass, and that mass will press down on a surface, with no use of gas correct? Would then placing pressure sensitive pizeoelectirc generators under the road work?

To press down the car uses no gas, therefore would not spend more gas by going over this road.

Im certainly not saying that what i'm suggesting here is fact, but asking the question. Am i off base with these assumptions? If so where did i go wrong?

Thanks!
TrinityComplex
4 / 5 (4) Apr 28, 2011
CSharpner: You're implying that it changes the solidity or texture of the surface it's under, the two things that would affect the efficiency of the vehicles driving on it. That's not the case. Instead of the vibrations (which are already occurring) continuing down into the earth they run into these devices, which convert that vibration into electricity. Solar panels don't reduce the amount of light the sun puts out, this is supposed to be the same idea. It's turning something wasted into something used. Recycling a plastic bottle doesn't make it less effective, it just takes it out of the landfill.
CSharpner
4 / 5 (4) Apr 28, 2011
The cars have mass, and that mass will press down on a surface, with no use of gas correct?


(I'm responding to J-n's question about compression, not responding directly to the harvesting technique in this article...)

No, but good question. Don't get me wrong... You CAN harvest energy in this way, but it's not FREE energy. It comes at the expense of lowered fuel efficiency in the cars causing them to burn more fuel than you'd be saving from the harvesting. It's the equivalent of putting a windmill on your car roof.

Here's why: As the tire approaches a spec of road, it compresses it. This is where the energy loss can happen because the tire has to *push* forward to get over the "hump" to compress it (and where a device under the road can harvest it). To harvest it in your way, your device needs to add more resistance to the hump than was already there, hence more effort by the car to get over it or to compress it. You're stealing energy from the car.
Pyle
2.5 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2011
@Trinity: Yes on your latest post. Your earlier post hits a nerve though. I might have to agree with the skeptics that there are better uses for money to improve efficiency than putting these power generators into roadways. But I totally agree with the idea to capture wasted energy and recycle it. A one mile test strip seems like a worthwhile cause to me, given the price isn't ridiculous.

Several commenters have mentioned that this would cause cars to be less efficient. The point is to harvest waste, not waste more and harvest a fraction of that. Everybody with the thermo law stuck on their brain should recognize you can harvest waste without wasting more. Yes, windmills on cars is generally a bad idea, but regenerative braking isn't. Turbines next to trains can increase resistance. To be effective we must engineer them in a manner that doesn't impede the train's travel while capturing the energy in the air movement its passage created.
CSharpner
not rated yet Apr 28, 2011
CSharpner: You're implying that it changes the solidity or texture of the surface it's under, the two things that would affect the efficiency of the vehicles driving on it. That's not the case. Instead of the vibrations (which are already occurring) continuing down into the earth they run into these devices, which convert that vibration into electricity.

I understand. I'm not completely convinced it doesn't change the surface. But, I will certainly concede that I'm not 100% sure that it won't. I'd like to see a more in depth, mathematical proof. I'm hopeful you're right though.

It does seem that it would be more efficient to have vibration absorbing tech ON the cars to make them more efficient. As an earlier poster noted, the closer to the source you get, the more efficient you can be. Though, on board, this would add weight, so maybe the best place IS just under the road surface? It's certainly a complex problem. We have to think of the road and car as a single system.
CSharpner
3 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2011
The point is to harvest waste, not waste more and harvest a fraction of that.

Exactly. I think everyone understands that. The question, of course, is: Does this article's technique do that? I think it's too complex a problem for us to speculate properly here. I would like to see it on a test track and some very precise measurements of the car's efficiency with and without the harvester underneath (or to the side). And compare that to the energy harvested. Then, of course, include the energy used to manufacture, install, maintain, and decommission the harvester tech (which must be subtracted from the total energy harvested per the expected lifetime of the harvester). Also, include the finances... How much does it COST to manufacture, install, maintain, and dispose of the harvester tech?

Too often, we get too excited about a new tech and forget to account for ALL of its expenses and our good intentions turn out to make things even worse.
TrinityComplex
3.3 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2011
CSharpner: I agree! Both with the request for full cost/efficiency analysis and that they should put waste energy havesters on cars, and there's already work on that side: http://www.physor...357.html

I have yet to see any hybrid or fully electric vehicles equipped with these, but the idea of recapturing as much wasted energy as possible is a big interest of mine. We just need more electric vehicles on the road. I'm hoping someone will put these in a concept car with the regenerative braking system. If there are other systems, throw those in too.

Soon, a steering wheel that captures the pressure of your hands, perfect for white knuckling it on the 405 in rush hour. After that, a device that captures the energy of you screaming at other drivers; 'USE YOUR BLINKER YOU BA-Hey, I just charged my battery!'
PatrickSmith1
1 / 5 (1) Apr 29, 2011
haha.. great idea Trinity!

I know how this could work. Activate an element whenever a car would need to use it's brakes such as when the traffic ahead is slowing down. It would have to be part of an intelligent network. Even then though, you would decrease the regenernative capacity of hybrids. But overall it would work.
Justsayin
3 / 5 (4) Apr 29, 2011
If this is all puppy dogs, smiley faces, and hearts then why don't they let a private enterprise build it and run it efficiently? I suspect this is a crap idea pushed by a politician for his cronies/lobbyists and self aggrandizement.
Pyle
not rated yet Apr 29, 2011
@Justsayin: That isn't how it works at all.

As soon as government tests it out and finds that it makes money then some rich S.O.B. will lobby Congress or buy a governor, take it over, charge more than it would have cost government to do it, and then get bailed out in 5-10 years or go bankrupt without the project being finished despite several bloated bank accounts magically appearing in the Cayman Islands.

I'm just saying...
Isaacsname
1 / 5 (1) Apr 30, 2011
Actually, this has potential in many ways.

Piezoelectric tires ( already patented ), piezoelectric fabrics, ad infinitum. Think of how many pounds of force are generated just by people pushing and pulling doors around the world every 24 hours.

Wasted energy everywhere.

Think of piezoelectric nanomaterial coatings in urban settings. On buildings, cars, etc.

This isn't a problem so much in that it can't be done, it is a problem in that it cannot be done in a way that provides profit margins that are attractive to big companies.
Justsayin
2.8 / 5 (4) Apr 30, 2011
So Pyle, you are saying that the politician is as pure as the wind driven snow and the rich businessman is to blame? Since when can the government do anything more cheaply and competently than private enterprise? Amtrack? Postoffice? Prisons? Schooling? Waste removal?
bugmenot23
not rated yet Apr 30, 2011
Ohh i read the word vibrational wrong
Birthmark
not rated yet Apr 30, 2011
Isn't "vibrational" energy, just another way of saying kinetic energy?
unknownorgin
1 / 5 (1) Apr 30, 2011
Every bridge has vibration and flexing so it seems foolish to dig up the roadbed when the underside of a bridge is perfect for harvesting wasted kinetic energy and it would also be possible to monitor the signals for problems in the structure so it could be repaired before a disaster happens.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet May 01, 2011
"I would say no to the LED part. LED lights aren't quite there yet. In fact the ones I have tried for lighting requirements similar to street lighting suck, frankly" - Pyle

I use a 1 watt LED bulb to light my porch. Provides adequate light to navigate, find the door knob see the house numbers, etc.

In my kitchen I am currently using three 8 watt LED bulbs from sylvania. Each use two illuminating pads that are ultra bright. Each pad produces the equivalent of 20 watts of incandescent light. for a total of 120 watts.

They are coming. But still need work I agree. Currently they are damn expensive.

These 8 watt bulbs I got free, but sell for around $35 each.

They are replacing three 13 watt CF bulbs that were previously there.

Presuming 20,000 hours of burn time, these 3 LED bulbs will produce a total savings of about $374.

Cont...

Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet May 01, 2011
My electric bill for the last 2 months. I happen to have it sitting beside me.

Off peak usage $18.77 (368 KWh)
Mid peak usage $6.40 (79 KWh)
Peak usage $12.81 (129 KWh)

Total power cost for 2 months. $37.98
xznofile
not rated yet May 01, 2011
how about capturing slow vibration with piezoelectrics like from wave energy?
qv3553
not rated yet May 01, 2011
I've seen this before, they're seeking to implement the technology of Israeli company Innowattech--their website's the source of this video as well.
Grizzled
1 / 5 (1) May 02, 2011
Once I thought it would be great idea, if there would be some turbines in waterpipes.


Not just you. There was a project once, seriously suggested by some of the more crazy Australian Greens to do just that with their large water duct running across the desert. The idea was that turbines installed inside those pipes could feed electricity to the remote/isolated townships along the way! Luckily, the idea was sunk (excuse the pun).
Grizzled
3 / 5 (2) May 02, 2011
Recycling a plastic bottle doesn't make it less effective


But it does! To recycle it you need energy. So if you look at the total system you've lost. Again. Look, you can't cheat the laws of thermodynamics. The perpetuum mobile IS NOT possible. Moreover, you can't even break even - no transformation of energy can be 100% effective even in principle. So, the more intermediate stages you introduce (like petrol to acoustic vibrations to electricity) the more you will lose in the process.

And setting generators under the surface doesn't change anything. If you manage to extract any useful energy, it mean that you've changed the properties of the surface. Maybe not how smooth/rough it is but what about the flexibility / rigidity? Resonance frequences? Something, somewhere will have to give. Again, you can't cheat in physics, sorry.
TrinityComplex
not rated yet May 02, 2011
Grizzled, you read more into that then what I meant. What was meant is that the replacement bottle is no less effective than what it was made out of. Also, it takes less total energy to melt down the bottle and make a new one than creating one from base materials.

I realize that perpetual energy is against the laws of physics, and I never implied otherwise, but we CAN become more and more efficient. Massive amounts of energy is wasted in all kinds of ways everywhere you look. In the case of cars a large portion of the energy wasted is heat. The idea is to recapture what is being wasted. This is not supposed to change anything at the surface of the road, just like solar panels don't change the sun. And, just like sunlight, the vibrations are already there, just going into the ground, being wasted. As I said, you could put these things on the side of the road, thereby not affecting the road at all, but it would be less efficient at capturing those vibrations.
TrinityComplex
not rated yet May 02, 2011
@xznofile- They're trying that in Japan, China, Australia and supposedly New Zealand that I've heard of. Most have had technical problems, unfortunately.

@unknownorgin- Possibly, but they are planning on putting these in when they do normal repaving of the road, and putting them in a bridge would likely take some special planning. They first want to see how well it works in as cheap a fashion as possible.

@Birthmark- Kinetic energy is a little ambiguous, so saying vibrational energy gives a more specific idea of exactly what they're referring to. They're not harvesting the rotational energy of the wheels, for instance.