A New Source of Energy: Harnessing Ourselves

This merry-go-round captures the energy from spinning in order to power lights.

We had to smile when we came across the website of Empower Playgrounds. They provide electricity-generating playground equipment that is used in rural Ghanaian schools to both produce light and teach children about energy. If you’ve ever spent time around a playground, you know how much time kids spend running, jumping, spinning, and sliding. Imagine capturing the energy output from the teeter-totters, swings, or merry-go-rounds across the U.S.!

Power-Generating Floor (TM) tiles at the Kokuyo headquarters. (C) Soundpower Corporation

That made us wonder about other ways to capture the energy from our daily lives. Erik Arita of the Japan Times Online has written about Kohei Hayamizu. Hayazimu is the founder of Soundpower Corporation and has developed a “power-generating floor” that generates electricity from vibrations in plates containing crystalline piezoelectric elements. Piezoelectric elements, made of barium titanium oxides, generate electricity when pressure is applied. A 50 centimeter square tile generates 0.1 watts of electricity when a person steps on it – about enough energy to light up a string of LED lights wired to the tile. Soundpower Corporation hopes to harness additional products, like shoes or sound vibrations.

Piezoelectricity is also the subject of a bill proposed by California Assemblyman Mike Gatto. He would like to capture the vibrations from California roadways whenever a car or truck passes over them. Similar to Soundpower Corporations floors, the piezoelectric roadways would convert traffic vibrations into electricity. A prototype tested by the Israeli government in 2009 was reportedly able to generate 2,000 watt-hours of electricity from a 10-meter section of highway. Gatto’s bill requires Caltrans to use existing funds for 2 pilot projects.

Fluxxlab's Revolution Door captures the energy generated from people pushing a revolving door.

Another ingenious idea comes from the designers at Fluxxlab in New York City, who focus on sustainable energy harvesting. Their Revolution Door captures energy as people push and walk through a revolving door. Essentially, the door is similar to the merry-go-round mentioned above, or even to a hydroelectric turbine that spins as water passes through. In addition to harnessing these small amounts of generated energy, Fluxxlab designed their system so that the door also powers a display showing each person their individual contribution to the energy cycle.

These are just a few great ideas we’ve seen on how to harness some of the small amounts of energy we all generate in our daily lives. We’ll keep you posted if we come across other ingenious designs.

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