What is a road or motorway good for? The answer seems obvious. But for several years now, engineers and scientists have been looking for other ways to answer that question. Because in addition to facilitating driving and transportation, roads can serve to generate clean energy.
For some time now Devici Tech, a Turkish company, has been developing a turbine that it has dubbed Enlil, which generates energy from the traffic of passing vehicles. Each one of these turbines, its creators explain, is capable of generating a kilowatt of electricity every hour, which is enough energy to supply two homes for a day. These engineers placed their devices in the dividers of roads and highways in Istanbul where there is intense traffic, especially on the ones with buses, lorries and large cars. The air stirred by these passing vehicles, along with natural wind, moves the blades of the turbines and transforms it into electric energy. In this way, they say, highways become “sources to generate renewable energy.”
Enlil also has a panel to capture the sun’s energy, and thanks to its modular design, the turbine can be mounted or dismounted in a question of minutes. Thus, at times when traffic is intense, turbines can be installed, and then taken down when traffic intensity is lower.
There can be several applications for this turbine because it already integrates “a SMART system which enables it to add modules such as tools to measure CO2 levels, data collection through its IoT platform, traffic management systems, earthquake detection, and connectivity for autonomous vehicles.” The modules are also very useful in creating air pollution maps in cities and for obtaining weather data that can be used by city halls, weather stations and research centres.
But this isn’t the only project to generate clean energy from road traffic, what is known as an Energy Harvesting System. In 2012 the Technion Institute and Innowatech in Israel came up with a device to obtain electricity from the pressure that vehicles produce on a road when driving over it. “Our generators are built with piezoelectric material,” Haim Abramovich, founder of Innowatech, said in an interview a few years ago. “It’s installed about five centimetres below the surface of the asphalt. The pressure of the vehicles is converted into electricity to satisfy the energy needs of the same highway.”
Generating electric energy through the movement of cars also has economic advantages. “The fact that each street light, traffic light, sign or SOS point has its own generator on the motorway, and also that this generator is activated and fed by the cars that drive by, eliminates a large part of energy production costs, makes the generators easier to repair (we can almost consider it a plug&play), reduces installation and maintenance costs and favors the environment,” wrote journalist Marcos Martínez in an article published in 2016.
In addition, the environmental impact of these turbines is rather low. They don’t need a lot of space, because they are installed in already-existing median strips. They produce hardly any noise, especially when compared to that from traffic, and animals –especially birds– would not be in danger because the blades turn slowly. Finally, they could even replace medium-voltage electric cables.
When someone asks you about the purpose of a road, you now have another answer: it generates electricity.