June 24, 2008 Peak oil is proving a great motivator for the exploration of radical alternative energy ideas and ongoing developments show that we haven’t even scratched the surface. The latest shining example comes from the UK, where plans to harness the power of pedestrians to generate electricity are underway.
The technology works using underfloor generators powered by the footsteps of pedestrians on compression pads on the floor above. The pressure of the footsteps on the pads drives fluid through mini-turbines in order to generate electricity, which can then be stored in a battery.
Generally this kinetic energy goes to waste, but by utilizing the heel-strike generators and piezoelectric materials (such as crystals and certain ceramics) it can be harnessed and used to power lighting and other devices. Last year, a version of the technology that used the energy of passing trains to power the nearby flood detector was successfully trialled in a bridge in the Midlands, UK.
The first large-scale application of the technology could be to collect energy from visitors walking up and down the stairs to the Spinnaker Tower viewing platform in Portsmouth, UK. The proposal from David Webb of the British consultancy of Scott Wilson, would see miniature heel-strike generators installed beneath the stairs to capture the power generated by people walking above. Webb’s ideas also reach as far as eventually incorporating these generators into shoes in order to generate power for personal electronic devices everywhere you go. Additionally, the pedestrian power of fans at sporting matches could eventually be used to power the floodlights at stadiums. Modeling based on foot traffic at London's Victoria Underground train station showed that the average 34,000 travelers who pass through the station each hour have the potential to power 6,500 light globes.
Related reading: human body-heated building plan for Stockholm.