Bill Uses California Traffic To Fuel EVs Instead Of Road Rage

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It's ironic that as the world becomes more interconnected, America is trying to become more independent.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in our energy policy, where we talk a lot about the dangers of depending on foreign oil and the importance of generating our own energy. A new bill moving through the California legislature offers a new way of creating that energy -- and it uses our cars to provide it.

The bill sets up a pilot program on California roads to study piezoelectric generation -- which in this case is a very fancy way of saying energy created from vibrations. The program would place sensors under California highways, which would capture vibrations created by automobiles and convert them to electricity. According to the bill's author, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), "A one-mile stretch of two-lane highway can generate enough power to power 500 homes for an entire year, or to power 120 electrical vehicles a day."  

Gatto says that funds for projects like this have already been allotted as part of California's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program: "My bill takes existing money that was set aside years ago for creative projects just like this. It does not use any new tax dollars." The bill passed out of the Natural Resources Committee on a 6 to 1 vote last week, and it now heads to the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Of course, piezoelectric programs aren't anything new -- we've seen them installed at high-end hotels and fast food joints over the past few years. However, widespread deployment hasn't happened; Gatto's proposal could help determine whether such a roll-out is feasible or folly.

For a tad more info, here's a video clip from MSNBC:

[NBC, Cnet]


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Comments (10)
  1. Fantastically stupid idea! Shocking that grown men can be this dumb. This one is a contender for this years crown "King Stupid".
    Where do they suppose this wonderful source of free power comes from? Yes, that's right, the car's engine, and that runs on gasoline... and who stands to benefit from the tiny amount of extra gasoline that hundreds of thousands of cars would consume... Yes indeed, the oil companies.
    I seem to recall that a certain burger chain had a similarly stupid idea using a ramp outside the drive-through window; that one was even more spectacularity stupid as it took energy from slow moving cars; cars at their least efficient.
    Use the money to strengthen the bridges & hence make the cars more efficient.

  2. @Michael: I agree that piezoelectric systems probably aren't the most efficient means of generating electricity -- at least not with current technology. However, I think your insistence that this is an intrinsically stupid idea is a little bogus. After all, if there's energy going to waste, why not try to recapture it? Heck, Toyota built a hybrid car empire on that very concept.
    And I'm totally lost on your argument about the oil companies (and bridges?). Ultimately, I think proponents of the plan would like to see a system in which EVs, hybrids, and conventional vehicles generate electricity that goes back to the grid and powers EVs. There are holes in that system that would need to be plugged, but it's not what I'd call outrageous.

  3. Wonder how the payback would compare to having solar panels or wind turbines in the median strip.

  4. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that there are regenerative shock absorbers as well. The payback does not look too good for these, but it may be more practical to place the energy recovery mechanism in the car than in the road.

  5. Richard Read: I always check the date when reading articles like this but since it's not the first of April let me say I think Michael Thwaite is right: energy has to come from somewhere and I doubt this technology somehow captures energy that would otherwise go to waste. I think the piezoelectric thingies in the road surface will actually cause extra resistance for the vehicles driving over it thus effectively steeling energy from their gas tanks.

  6. ....on second thought, maybe vibrations are a genuine source of waste energy....

  7. @Chris: There's no denying that vibrations are a genuine source of energy, since they represent a force's effect on matter. (The concept is similar to that employed in regenerative braking systems.) IMHO, the real question is whether piezoelectric generation is an efficient means of generating electricity or whether, as John suggest above, it would be better to focus attention on other systems in the car, along the median, or elsewhere.

  8. Let's imagine a model to clear this up; Imagine the car is a bowling ball, you cast it down the ally and it seems to roll forever. However, our roads are soft and squishy, they move and vibrate (especially bridges) they're more like carpet than the hard unyielding wood of a bowling alley. Imagine the bowling ball rolling on thick carpet, a 70's shag perhaps. It'd roll but not nearly as far, why? because it's kinetic energy is being wasted along the route by the constant deformation of the carpet, squashing it, moving it, vibrating it and by the ball being lifted and lowered over the shag. Back to a harder un-yielding surface and the energy in the ball takes it further, or it needs less to start with.

  9. But, perhaps we can't make roads harder, perhaps they're always going to move, so, we could use that movement, that vibration to create energy? Hmm, ok, so we attach a piezo device to the roadway and, as piezo devices work by resisting movement to create electricity (no free energy said some guy) we attach the other side to something solid and immovable; voila! Electricity as the car passes over. Hang on, what did we attach the piezo device to, something solid? Ah, why don't we just attach the roadway to whatever that was and make it more like the bowling ally so the car rolls more smoothly, and uses… less gas.
    Another model; we know cars use more gas going uphill & down, a rough road creating vibrations is just that in miniature.

  10. You probably sense that these schemes drive me nuts; the scheme not the reporting, just the scheme.
    Now, must go, I'm fitting a windmill to my car this afternoon to recharge the battery as I drive...

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