Roads, Rails and Runways Turn Traffic Into Electricity

Israeli company Innowattech, together with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers, have developed a working system for producing and harvesting electric energy from traffic on roads, railroad tracks and airport runways. A fully functional prototype of the system has already been installed in a section of road on the Technion campus.

The first of its kind in the world, the system is made up of a network of piezoelectric generators embedded in the pavement and a storage system developed to harvest the electricity created by the weight and motion of vehicles.  It is based upon the piezoelectric effect, the production of electricity that occurs when certain materials - including crystals and some ceramics - are deformed.

Dr. Edery-Azulay, a Technion alumna

Dr. Lucy Edery-Azulay

"The constant movement energy on busy roads, railways and runways near highly populated areas can be converted into electrical energy for local customers," said Technion Prof. Haim Abramovich, Innowattech's CEO, who co-founded the company with Dr. Lucy Edery-Azulay.  "The accumulated energy can be used either for local power needs or routed into the power grid."

The system does not take up any public space and functions in all weather conditions. 

Unlike systems that convert solar- and wind-power into electricity, the Innowattech system is not confined to specific climates or geographic areas.  Placed under the upper asphalt layer, the generators tend to reduce the deflection of the road, due to the pressure of the vehicles. But instead of being wasted, part of the energy is harvested and transformed into electricity, so the vehicles experience the same resistance to the wheels as normal asphalt without a change to their MPG efficiency.  The technology is very low maintenance as there are no moving parts with the generators, which only need to be repaired or replaced once every 30 years.

According to Prof. Abramovich, a constant traffic load of at least 600 trucks per hour (traveling at an average speed of 45 mph) on a 6.2-mile stretch of 4-lane highway would produce up to 5,000 kilowatt hours of electricity enough to power between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. homes for one month.  A 6.2-mile stretch of railroad could produce up to 1,500 kilowatt hours of electricity.  And a one-kilometer stretch of airport runway could produce up to 500 kilowatt hours of electricity.

According to Prof. Abramovich, the energy produced with this technology could also be used for powering streetlights, traffic lights, intersection de-icing devices and charging electric cars. "Smart Roads" and "Smart Airport Runways" could also be created when the system is coupled with a smart card, which would be able to identify the speed, weight and interval distance of vehicles and planes.

Innowattech is based in Ra'anana, Israel, with research facilities at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.  The privately held company specializes in the development of custom piezoelectric generators for specific purposes.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university.  Home to the country's winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine.  The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society (ATS) is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with offices around the country.


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