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Producing the next generation of smart road surfaces

20 September 2017

Researchers are generating smart materials for roads and pavements that could generate electricity from passing traffic to power street lamps or traffic lights.

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The Lancaster University project, led by Professor Mohamed Saafi, is looking at embedding materials such as ‘piezoelectric’ ceramics into road surfaces to harvest and convert vehicle vibration into electrical energy. The project is aiming to optimise energy recovery of around 1-2MW per kilometre under ‘normal’ traffic conditions – 2,000-3,000 cars an hour. This in turn could power between 2,000-4,000 street lamps, as well as providing environmental benefits and delivering cost savings. 

It currently costs around 15p a kilowatt hour to power a street lamp. Therefore 2,000 to 4,000 lights can cost operators – which in the UK tend to be local authorities, or the Highways Agency for motorways and trunk roads – approximately between £1,800 and £3,600 per day. Researchers say the cost of installing and operating new road energy harvesting technology would be around 20 percent of this cost.

Professor Saafi said: “This research is about helping to produce the next generation of smart road surfaces. We will be developing new materials to take advantage of the piezoelectric effect where passing vehicles cause stress on the road surface, producing voltage. The materials will need to withstand high strengths, and provide a good balance between cost and the energy they produce.

“The system we develop will then convert this mechanical energy into electric energy to power things such as street lamps, traffic lights and electric car charging points. It could also be used to provide other smart street benefits, such as real-time traffic volume monitoring.”

When the technology has been developed it will undergo field trials in the UK and other areas of the EU.


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