Every day, millions of people walk the busy sidewalks and streets of cities. Now, imagine a future in which the energy of their footsteps is transformed into electricity to power urban infrastructure like streetlights or stop lights. The future for this type of technology is now, as London-based startup Pavegen has already developed tiling that’s made from 95 percent recycled tires, and can harvest energy from people’s footsteps, turning it into electricity.
“I aimed to create a new energy source for the city of the future — the smart cities — and low carbon alternatives to existing power sources,” Laurence Kemball Cook, the CEO and founder of Pavegen, told Design News. He built the first prototype of the tiles in 2009 while at Loughborough University, and founded Pavegen later that year.
The tiles store the power from each footstep, flexing 5mm when stepped on, and converting that downward movement into electricity in constant pulses of power — one to five seconds per footstep, depending on the weight of the person, Cook told us. The electricity created is 12V dc, and up to 8 watts of kinetic energy can be converted over the duration of each footstep.
This power can then be used to provide electricity to anything on the street if it’s installed in an urban area, Cook said. For example, by installing the Pavegen tiles in a busy part of a city, the energy stored from people pounding the pavement all day can be used to keep the streetlights on all night. “Because during the day you do not need light, we can give you a back-up reserve depending on the application,” he said. “You can store the energy for up to three days.”
The tiles — made of recycled polymer concrete and assorted polymers in addition to tire rubber — also have a unique proprietary wireless communications technology that uses only 1 percent of their power to transmit data about the number of footfalls and the energy generated via the Internet. “You can turn a floor into a whole network of products that can speak to the network,” Cook said. “You can send data via our communications protocol up to 100 meters per tile, depending on the location and the surrounding.”
This will give city administrators and business owners information about how many people pass through a certain area, which they can use to make smart energy and other decisions.“A smart city is one where energy is generated where it’s needed, stored where it’s needed, and used where it’s needed,” Cook said. “This wireless technology allows a seamless integration between power usage and demand.”
The ultimate goal of Pavegen is to make the tiles as affordable as regular floor tile, although in its early stages, the company is targeting urban areas rather than consumer homes. To that end, the company already has made some notable installations. At the summer Olympics in London, for example, Pavegen tiles were used at the West Ham station of the London Underground, which was right outside Olympic Park. Energy generated from walkers was used to power lights in the station for five hours each night.