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What is kinetic pavement?

By Rachel England Wednesday 22 May 2013

Power walking

How about this for smart technology? Pedestrians around the world could soon generate energy simply by walking to work or taking an afternoon stroll, thanks to ‘kinetic pavements’ that turn footsteps into electricity.

London-based startup Pavegen has developed a special energy-harvesting tile – made from 95% recycled tyres – that flexes by 5mm when stepped on, resulting in up to 8 watts of kinetic energy over the duration of the footstep. Enough tiles and enough footsteps can create enough energy to be stored in batteries, or to help power streetlights and other electrical items.

Each tile also boasts a unique proprietary wireless communications technology that uses only 1% of its power to transmit data about the number of footfalls and energy generated. This means city officials and business owners can see how many people are passing through each area, and then make smart decisions about the way that power is used.

The technology has already appeared at some pretty important events. Last year, 12 tiles were installed along the walking route to the Olympic Park. Pavegen estimated that over the course of the Games the tiles would harvest energy from more than 12 million footsteps, generating 72 million joules of energy – enough to charge 10,000 mobile phones for an hour! The electricity was put to more communally beneficial use though, powering the lights in nearby West Ham station for five hours each night.

More recently, the tiles were installed over a 25-metre distance at the start point of the Paris Marathon, as well as around spectator viewing platforms and other key points along the route. Over the course of the event runners and bystanders generated nearly five kilowatts of electricity, enough to power a laptop for 52 hours, drive an electric car for 15 miles or light up a village in a developing nation for an entire day.

It’s not just big events that are benefiting from pavement power, either; the Simon Langton Grammar School in Kent has a permanent Pavegen installation in its halls, harvesting power from the footsteps of its 1,100 students. So does Rednock School in Gloucestershire. And in London, one office has installed the technology in its main entrance, with the footfall from workers available to view live online.

Power

Pavegen ultimately hopes to make the tiles as affordable as regular floor tiles, and to see them installed in offices, schools, pedestrianised areas and public spaces around the world.

The technology has come under some criticism because, well, it’s not as powerful as conventional electricity sources. The average person will walk 150 million steps in their lifetime, and in theory, that would only be enough to power the average family home for three weeks. Doesn’t sound great, does it? But combine all the steps of all the people on the planet, and then we’re talking about making a serious contribution to sustainable energy. And as natural resources get lower and energy prices get higher we’ll certainly need all the help we can get. Now, where did we put our running shoes?

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