Tripping The Light Fantastic To Save Energy

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Written By Gholam Rahmani

Tripping The Light Fantastic To Save EnergyIt may be a small step for you, but it’s one giant step for mankind as walking is put forward as a solution for some of the world’s energy problems.

Tests at a London tube station during the London 2012 Olympics showed that if enough people walk across a floor, some smart electronics beneath the surface can generate enough electricity to light the space.

The power comes from a person’s weight slightly shifting the floor a few millimetres, which sets off a chemical reaction to produce electricity that is then captured and sent off to light the room.

More than a million people tramped through the tube station to light bulbs, while other demo applications have included an electronic dance floor lit by the movement of dancers.

Now the makers, Pavegen, want to floor the world with their product to save energy and power lights and heating.

Bright future

Pavegen is just one of many technology start-ups that see a bright future in energy harvesting.

Human movement is all around us in busy shopping centres, sports arenas, stations and offices.

That movement can be converted to electricity to power the buildings.

Dr Paul Weaver of the National Physical Laboratory explained energy harvesting falls into two categories:

  • Piezoelectric – which are devices with ceramics or polymers inside that self-generate power when squeezed or stretched. Activation is by vibration and other natural movement.
  • Thermoelectric – devices based on materials that react to changes in temperature.

Piezoelectric technologies are unlikely to ever produce enough power to light a city – but could be useful as anon-toxic replacement for batteries.

Piezoelectric devices never need replacing or maintenance as they have no moving parts that can go wrong.

Hot property

Thermoelectric devices are already being developed for the motor industry as a method of harnessing heat from exhausts to run the vehicle’s electrical system.

BMW, Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors are deeply involved in the research.

Dr Weaver estimates thermoelectrics could give a vehicle up to a 10% energy saving, which multiplied across all the vehicles in the world, could add up to a significant reduction in fuel.

Space vehicles, like the Mars rover Curiosity are already powered in a similar way.

Harvesting energy is not just about wind farms, the tides and solar panels; it’s about everyone playing their part.

Luckily no one will have to power a treadmill if Pavegen get their way.