Good, good, good vibrations: Could freeways produce free energy?

California projects will test road vibrations as potential renewable energy source

Nothing says gridlock like the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles.

But from all that infamous California traffic congestion, a new source of renewable energy may one day emerge.

Officials in the Golden State recently agreed to contribute $2.3 million toward generating electrical power from traffic. The concept, known as piezoelectricity, is “peculiar but proven,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and converts pressure into power.

Now, two pilot projects will try to determine whether the science can be harnessed on a large scale—like the vibrations of thousands of cars and trucks on SoCal freeways.

“There’s a lot of traffic in California and a lot of vibration that just goes into the atmosphere as heat. We can capture that,” Mike Gravely, head of the California Energy Commission’s research division, tells the Chronicle. “The technology has been successfully demonstrated.”

The technology has been used in dance floors, with clubs using the mechanical energy to power lights and music.

Pilot programs will be carried out by Pyro-E, a green tech outfit based in San Jose, and engineers on the UC Merced campus, where a 200-foot stretch of asphalt will be implanted with thousands of inch-wide piezoelectric generators stacked like coins.

Within three years, engineers should know whether this technology is viable enough to become part of the state’s commitment to produce 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2030.

“The ultimate goal for us is to move this to a commercially viable product,” says Gravely.

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