Piezoelectricity- Helping Freeways Go Green

Samantha Zeitz

Technology that has been used for years in common items is getting a new purpose. Piezoelectricity, used in watches, microphones and even vinyl records has the potential to make our streets greener.

What is Piezoelectricity and how does it work? In simple terms, it’s an electrical volt that you can get when you apply mechanical pressure to the sides of a crystal, such as quartz. A grid is formed of piezoelectric crystals and as they are put under extreme pressure, these crystals produce an electric current. The current gets carried through the grid to surrounding crystals to create positive and negative charges on opposite, outer-faced crystals.

With this technology, The California Energy Commission (CEC) wants to cultivate green power from a not so green place, the road. By placing the piezoelectric crystals on the road they are capable of collecting power from everyday traffic. When cars drive over them they will compress and produce electricity.

Scientists say that covering a 10-mile strip of road with this technology could give power to over 105,000 people. Some contend, being the car capital of the world, it only makes sense to take advantage of the car vibrations.

Los Angeles assemblyman, Mike Gatto, suggested this pilot program after a friend told him about the technology he had seen in Israel. In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown rejected the idea, but Gatto didn’t stop pushing the concept. He approached the CEC and five years later they agreed to go through with the pilot program. They hope to set an example and get other states involved.

California and Israel aren’t the only places that hope to take advantage of the renewable energy. For the past seven years the East Japan Railway Company’s Tokyo station has been cultivating energy using this process. People walking across the piezoelectric flooring power all displays in the railway.

Italy is also looking to introduce this energy harvesting technology. It will be installed in a portion of the Venice-to-Trieste Autostrada.