Under Pressure: Piezoelectric Energy To Be Generated By Paris Marathoners

People move. All the time. Wouldn’t it be great to harness that movement and help power our cities with the movement of people living in them?

The Paris Marathon will happen on Sunday, and the organizers are going to lay down some special tiles across the course. While runners are concerned with charging their internal batteries with carbs and sustaining them with goo, their footsteps will charge other batteries:

The flexible tiles made from recycled truck tires will span a portion of the Champs Elysees for about 25 meters (82 feet) of the 42.2-kilometer course, according to Pavegen Systems Ltd., the U.K. maker of the tiles. Each footstep generates as much as 8 watts of kinetic energy, which is fed back to batteries that can charge display screens and electronic signs along the route, the company said.

While each footstep only generates 8 watts of energy through the kinetic motion of the runner stepping on the tile, there will be 40,000 runners passing over those tiles. Pavegen CEO Laurance Kemball-Cook invented the technology, and hopes to provide an easy way to generate electricity, regardless of weather. There is a contest to see who can guess how much energy the marathon will generate.

The largest demonstration of this type of kinetic energy occurred during the London Olympics. The cost of the panels remains high, though Pavegen is aiming to bring it down to the cost of similar tile flooring. It is also turning to Kickstarter to install panels at schools in the UK.

A Kenyan inventor patented technology that converts the bending of a sneaker into piezoelectric energy to charge a cell phone directly, or a battery to charge other things once the shoes come off. DARPA is funding research into other piezoelectric generators that convert kinetic energy directly into chemical storage without the need for a separate battery.

Existing commercial products use the power of someone pedaling a regular bicycle to charge their smartphone and a light. A new kind of soccer ball allows you to kick it and then charge a battery that will power an LED light. The ball is only one ounce heavier than a normal one.

Because each of these examples are so low-wattage on their own, this type of technology will truly become useful once it scales and lots of people wear shoes that charge their phones while walking on pavement that charges batteries to power lights. However, if most of our power continues to be generated by burning the fossil fuels that cause global warming, sporting events could be in danger. The New York City Marathon was cancelled in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and the Winter Olympics have started to consider stockpiling snow to avoid having to cancel events.

8 Responses to Under Pressure: Piezoelectric Energy To Be Generated By Paris Marathoners

  1. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    Paragraph #4: “8 watts of energy…”, should read, “8 watts of power.”

  2. john c. wilson says:

    Promoters of crosscountry ski events already stockpile snow and have been doing so for several years. The last Winter Olympics had to do considerable juggling of remote venues to complete the competition. And the winter competition season is simply shorter.

    The tiles are producing something like “instantaneous power output measured at 8 watts”. Without a great deal more information we can’t tell how many footsteps to produce 8 watthours.

  3. fj says:

    Human power is one of the most important sources of energy always with you as you move about.

    The simple secret of net zero transportation is that all you need to do is to make your vehicles small and light enough to be easily powered by human power.

    Other power options then cost a small amount more.

    Infrastructure and externalities are minimal.

  4. fj says:

    We tend not to value things by natural systems given for free — they are of inestimable value — and a carbon tax will help though will be far too low to be equitable in this case.

  5. Daniel Coffey says:

    Stockpiling snow? This technological approach was used years ago, and it could work again, but does anyone think that we are placing Band-Aids on arterial wounds by using this awkward approach to solving the “problem?” Seriously, at what point do you think to yourself: ok, its too hot for snow formation, so let’s stockpile it?

  6. Cheryl says:

    Good article. Every new technology we can develop to harness energy is very important. Think of putting those tiles in NYC where there is a lot of foot traffic. I read of a playground that has them. Why not put tiles on sections of road? / I like the bending shoe idea. NYC could use those while walking on tiles. / Also, harness the energy from gyms. Treadmills, exercise bikes, etc.

  7. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Seems limitless when you think about it, ME

  8. fj says:

    It’s likely the energy from this stuff is minimal but scaling human transport vehicles down so that they can be run by human power and running them on and off systems is a major game change of the largest kind.