Humanity is constantly looking at innovative technologies to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Yet itâs not always the big discoveries that make the difference. Small inventions that reduce our dependence gradually can also have significant impacts. One option that is being explored by American company New Energy Technologies (NET) is to convert the wasted kinetic energy from moving wheels of cars and lorries into electricity.
There are approximately 150 million cars in the US that travel around six billion miles each day, and according to Mechanical engineering professor Lei Zuo and colleagues at Stony Brook University only 10 to 16 percent of the fuel consumed by cars is used to drive the vehicle. Much of the energy is wasted.
Scientists have always known of the vast amounts of kinetic energy lost in moving vehicles, but applications to reduce the loss, or capture and reuse this energy, has been limited.
NET has developed a rumble strip called MotionPower that converts the movement and changes in velocity of vehicles into electricity. However, the amounts of electricity produced are small and are therefore more useful for powering devices local to the rumble strip. Rather than providing an alternative to fossil fuelled power plants it is more likely to provide a more cost effective alternative to solar panels.
Company chief executive John Conklin told AFP that this type of system has tremendous potential in high-traffic areas, such as sports venues, shopping malls, and toll and border crossings, to power lighting and other electrical systems.
MotionPower was first used at the civic centre in Roanoke, Virginia, where the energy provided the electricity to power a series of brightly illuminated light displays.
The electricity produced from inventions such as this is, in of itself, completely green. No fuel is needed, and beyond the initial production and installation cost it is incredibly cheap because there are no running costs. Really these systems do not so much create energy of their own, but rather increase the efficiency of the energy production from the fuel in the cars, by reducing the amount wasted.
Yiannis Andreopoulos from the City College of New York, who is also developing a road-embedded piezoelectric system, told AFP that any power generated from such systems would be "incremental" but that "if we add them all together a significant impact may result."
Imagine the costs that could be saved from applying these strips to roads in order to power street lights at night. As a vehicle passes over each strip it could power a light several hundred feet ahead for several seconds. So that, rather than powering street lights all night, even when the roads are empty, the lights would only turn on when a vehicle approaches, and then power off as the vehicle moves away.
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com