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We Could Make Our Roads Into Solar and Piezo-Electric Generators



April 23, 2011 – Comments (5)

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We Could Make Our Roads Into Solar and Piezo-Electric Generators
By Washingtons Blog - April 23rd, 2011, 10:10AM

Washington’s Blog strives to provide real-time, well-researched and actionable information.  George – the head writer at Washington’s Blog – is a busy professional and a former adjunct professor.


I wrote yesterday:

    Another use of a free, wasted byproduct to generate electricity is piezo-electric energy. “Piezo” means pressure. Anything that produces pressure can produce energy.
    For example, a train station in Japan installed piezo-electric equipment in the ground, so that the foot traffic of those walking through the train station generates electricity (turnstiles at train, subway and ferry stations, ballparks and amusement parks can also generate electricity).

    Similarly, all exercise machines at the gym or at home can be hooked up to produce electricity.

    But perhaps the greatest untapped sources of piezo-electric energy are freeways and busy roads. If piezo-electric mats were installed under the busiest sections [a little ways under the surface], the thousands of tons of vehicles passing over each day would generate massive amounts of electricity for the city’s use.

A couple of readers thought that sounded nuts.

But as TreeHugger notes today:

    Copyright TNO 2011

    The Dutch are well known for their ubiquitous bike lanes, to the point where Amsterdam is neck and neck with Copenhagen for the title of most bike-loving capital in Europe. Now, Denmark will have to come up with something big to match the latest plan from the Netherlands – the installation of solar panels in roads, starting with bike lanes.

    Talk about the efficient use of space: if you’re going to have roads (and hopefully you’ll have bike lanes), why not put that space to work producing energy? Called the Solaroad, the project is the brainchild of Dutch research firm TNO. The idea is pretty straightforward: a layer of concrete forms the road itself. A centimeter thick layer of crystalline silicon solar cells is laid on top, and covered by a layer of toughened glass. The energy potential: 50kWh per square meter per year, which can then be used to power street lighting, traffic systems and households.

    But it’s still an idea in development, which is why TNO, working with the Province of North Holland, the consulting firm Ooms Averhorn Group and the tech firm Intech, is starting with a small-scale pilot program in the town of Krommenie, outside of Amsterdam. Scheduled for installation next year, the first Solaroad will hopefully allow its developers better implement many more throughout the country.

Now why not put a piezo-electric mat under the crystalline silicon solar cells, under the layer of toughened glass?

We’d get two different forms of energy generation at once…

5 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On April 23, 2011 at 5:27 PM, mhy729 (30.30) wrote:

The piezo-electric mat sounds like a cool idea (though I am uncertain of the time to breakeven on the capital investment costs), but the solar panel covered road idea doesn't sound too convincing to me for a few reasons, mainly:  1) how well could glass serve as a frictional braking surface, and 2) how well would the transmittance of the glass cover hold up with repeated wear.  Certainly though, things such as these where you collect energy that is otherwise lost (regenerative braking, the cool watch I bought back in high school for my brother that recharges with arm motion, etc.) are wonderful ideas.

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#2) On April 23, 2011 at 5:29 PM, sajahmeoli (62.02) wrote:

The pilot projects in this area should soon show if the cost of infrastructure (labor and materials to assemble the piezo or solar roadway plus maintenance) is offset by the generated power.

My guess is that neither of these approaches will work without long-term public subsidies--which means that they really do not work at all, from a market perspective. Still, nothing wrong with playing a bit with the latest technology to see if things have improved enough over the last 40 years to these alternative energy systems profitable.

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#3) On April 24, 2011 at 9:28 AM, vriguy (62.07) wrote:

Why not have a piezo-electric generator under the railroad tracks? The only negative I can think of is the enormous weight of rolling stock would likely crush any piezo electric material. I know nothing about the strength of such materials.

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#4) On April 24, 2011 at 9:58 PM, ChrisGraley (28.48) wrote:

mhy729 (84.57) wrote: 

1) how well could glass serve as a frictional braking surface, and 2) how well would the transmittance of the glass cover hold up with repeated wear.

1) Very well if surfaced correctly, but I'm not sure if that would diminish the clarity of the glass

2) Not only would it be durable, but repair costs would be much cheaper. You could inject epoxy resin directly in any damaged area and it would bond to be just as strong as the original structure.



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#5) On April 25, 2011 at 9:39 AM, binve (< 20) wrote:

mhy729 ,

>>1) how well could glass serve as a frictional braking surface,

Valid point. I think this is why it is being tried out on bike lanes in Holland. Lower speeds and so that can study the phenomena to see if applicable surface treatments work at lower speed braking before they scale up to actual roads

>> 2) how well would the transmittance of the glass cover hold up with repeated wear.

Agreed. If wear clouds up the surface of the glass, then light will be refacted away before it gets to the cells. But there are all kinds of surface coating and glass materials that are becoming more prevanlet to stay clear despite wear (think Crizal in particular). They could also have self-healing 'glass' (which would actually with some type of plastic with micro-capsules of uncured clear epoxy interspered through the material that ruptures when scratched/scuffed and fills in the voids to repair the surface



vriguy ,

Good idea!

ChrisGraley ,


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