The road surface that generates energy from passing traffic

Whilst there have been considerable and noticeable improvements in car technologies in recent years, there have also been some interesting developments in road technology.  For instance, a recent study highlights the potential for new road materials to de-ice itself, thus removing the need for authorities to grit the roads over winter.

Icy roads are the cause of a huge number of traffic incidents around the world each year, with winter maintenance costing huge sums each year.  Our traditional approaches to making our roads and pavements safe do a reasonable job but require constant maintenance to ensure roads are fit for vehicles to use.

The researchers developed a salt potassium formate that was mixed with the styrene-butadiene-styrene polymer and then added in with bitumen to be laid on the road.  The new surface was capable of releasing salt evenly across the road  for two months in the lab environment, but the researchers believe it can achieve longer duration in real environments.

Energizing transportation

Arguably the most interesting developments have been in developing roads capable of capturing the energy produced by the traffic traveling upon them and passing those back into the grid.

A couple of years ago I wrote about a feasibility study undertaken in England to do just that.  The trials, which were believed to be the first of their kind, will test the safety and practicality of turning the road itself into a means by which to charge the battery of an EV.

“The potential to recharge low emission vehicles on the move offers exciting possibilities. The government is already committing £500 million over the next five years to keep Britain at the forefront of this technology, which will help boost jobs and growth in the sector. As this study shows, we continue to explore options on how to improve journeys and make low-emission vehicles accessible to families and businesses,” the team said.

Suffice to say, such roads have not yet materialized, but a team from Lancaster University hope to bring them one step closer to reality.  They’re working on smart materials that allow the vibrations from vehicle movements to be captured and converted into electrical energy.

The project hopes to recover around 2 Megawatts for every km of road (under ‘normal’ traffic conditions).  This would generate enough power for all of the street lamps on that stretch of road (for instance).

Whilst there is an obvious cost to install such functionality, the team believe the payback is swift.  They estimate that the cost of powering that number of street lamps can be up to £3,500 per day, and the technology would cost just 20% of this.

“This research is about helping to produce the next generation of smart road surfaces,” the team say.  “We will be developing new materials to take advantage of the piezoelectric effect where passing vehicles cause stress on the road surface, producing voltage. The materials will need to withstand high strengths, and provide a good balance between cost and the energy they produce.”

“The system we develop will then convert this mechanical energy into electric energy to power things such as street lamps, traffic lights and electric car charging points. It could also be used to provide other smart street benefits, such as real-time traffic volume monitoring,” they continue.

The team hope to undergo field trials across both the UK and Europe once the technology has been fully developed.  Hopefully it’s a sign of the direction we’re going in.