Turning Foot Traffic into Power

Turning Foot Traffic into Power

Call it a step in the right direction: The steady stream of pedestrian commuters in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle area are now able to generate enough electricity to keep the lights on at a nearby park.

This is because the tangram-style geometric pattern walkers see embedded in the sidewalk accomplishes more than meets the eye: Each triangle is a kinetic paver which allows for the collection and conversion of steps to usable energy. The tiles, made from recycled polymer and truck tires, are depressed slightly with the force of a footstep and spin a flywheel that generates the energy underfoot. This energy is stored and later used to illuminate LED lights under park benches in the area for up to six hours.

Pavegen, the company behind the cutting-edge technology, estimates that 10,000 people will pass over the kinetic tiles each day. The London-based company collaborated with the District Department of Transportation and Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (BID) on the project, which earned a $200,000 grant from city environmental initiative Sustainable DC.

One major hurdle to current widespread use of the technology? Cost. But the Pavegen team aims to increase their competitiveness by reducing the price of their kinetic tiles over the next few years, in the hope that eventually they will be able to retrofit a sidewalk “for the low thousands of dollars.”

Looking to the future, installing kinetic tiles over a larger area – or in locations with millions instead of thousands of walkers – could produce even greater amounts of eco-friendly, renewable power. Indeed, Pavegen’s chief executive and founder installed the first prototype of the kinetic tiles in London’s Heathrow Airport, which saw over 75 million passengers arrive and depart in 2015.

For now, the Golden Triangle BID will create a website that provides real-time updates on the energy generated through the dynamic stretch of sidewalk. There are also talks on gamifying the energy production – creating a “digital currency” that rewards smartphone users as they walk over the kinetic pavers.

All good steps on the path to building smarter, more energy-efficient cities.

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