2010

Step on It! Walking for Power

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What would be an alternative energy resource that could work well in the middle of a crowded city? The answer was a technology that harvests mechanical energy of walking feet and converts it to electrical energy via a special floor tile. But it was a big step from theory to practical design.

Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO and Founder of Pavegen Systems Ltd., was working at a large energy company in the UK when he decided to solve the problem of developing an alternative energy source that would work in a crowded city. His project was to design street lamps that would be powered by photovoltaics. The problem was that there is just too much shading in a city to make a system like that function. Wind energy isn’t practical either because the turbines would have to be mounted at a great height in order to rise above the cyclonic turning caused by the heat island effects of tall buildings. As for solar power, to mount photovoltaic panels on urban rooftops, you would have to deal with the clutter of structures like water towers and ventilation units, and in most cases, the roof would also have to be reinforced.

While researching off-grid solutions at Loughborough University, Laurence developed a design for a technology that can harvest the kinetic mechanical energy of walking feet and convert it to electrical energy with a specially engineered floor tile. This solution is uniquely adapted to urban environments where other technologies are not. Footsteps are a great, untapped natural resource in any setting where there is a large number of people on the go.

The idea was to build the ability to generate energy into a 600 x 450-millimeter tile. This makes for a very flexible and adaptable configuration. The tiles can be laid out to accommodate the physical constraints and walking patterns of any particular venue. How could this idea be translated into a practical product?

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