Human Achievement of the Day: Energy Harvesting Street Tiles

Imagine if there was a product that could harness the power of your footsteps and use that energy to power the devices around you? Now, imagine if whole sidewalks were paved with this material, harvesting the footsteps of millions of pedestrians every day?

The inventive folks over at Pavegen Systems not only imagined it — they did it. Based in the UK, Pavegen systems is a start-up tech firm headed by Laurence Kemball-Cook, an industrial design engineer. They created “Pavegen tiles,” which when tread upon convert the kinetic energy from footsteps into renewable electricity. The electricity is then stored in a lithium polymer battery. The tiles can also power off-grid items such as street lights, alarms, shop signs, displays, bus stops, and more.

Made from nearly 100-percent recycled materials, the tiles can be fitted to existing structures and waterproofed and last for about five years or 20 million steps. When stepped on, the tiles generate about 2.1 watts of electricity per hour — 5 percent of which is used to light up an LED pad on the tile, giving them a slight Space Odyssey feel.

Back in 2010, when his product was still in the final stages of testing the creators of pavegen tiles had high hopes and a healthy sense of humor.

“I just knew this idea had legs,” cracked Kemball-Cook in an interview with the Guardian. “I can imagine Pavegen in more remote areas of India, for instance,” he says. “There’s huge footfall there, but where there is power it’s polluting, fossil-fuel energy. This could be transformative.”

Unsurprisingly, lots of municipalities and private businesses are showing interest in Pavegen’s technology. Last September, they received their first commercial order for the 2012 Olympics in London where the tiles will pave the crossing between the stadium and the Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre. With about 30 million visitors a year, Westfield Shopping Centre already has enough traffic to make use of the Pavegen tile technology, but when the Olympics role into town there might be enough foot traffic to power the mall’s entire lighting system.

If widely adopted, Pavegen tiles indeed could reshape the way our cities are built and run, resulting in a cheaper, more efficient, and yes, more environmentally “friendly” human civilization.