Six Sidewalks That Work While You Walk

Pavegen tiles in the London tube photo
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Photo of self-lighting tile credit copyright Pavegen systems twitpic.

Sidewalks - we use 'em everyday. Which is why there's no end to the innovative ideas for making sidewalks work for us. Using piezoelectric, (also called kinetic energy) has been mostly confined to the novelty of the dance floor. That's mainly for cost and efficiency reasons. A new spate of projects coming this year, however, both with piezo technology as well as other innovations may make it worth a look at cities that are harnessing public human energy and heat for useable power.

Kungsbrohus graphic

Graphic credit Jernhusen.

1. 200,000 Walkers Warm The Building Next Door.

Stockholm's Central Station underground tunnel is a rush-hour throng of human bodies moving in two directions, to and from the underground subway platforms. Engineers working on the Kungsbrohuset building next door to the station decided to use some of the heat generated by the people movement along the walkways. Using available technology including a heat pump, two heat exhcangers and a series of ducts, the engineers will pipe body warmth from the station to the building next door, providing approximately 5-10 percent of needed space heating. It isn't the floor per se that is generating heat, but the streaming of feet and bodies in the tunnel that creates enough warmth for the "green" building next door to tap into. DUE DATE: November 2010.

Three Girls Jump on POWERLeap Piezo Tiles at Chicago Millenium Plaza

Photo credit POWERLeap via Facebook.

2. POWERLeap Proselytizes Piezo Tiles In Chicago.

Elizabeth Redmond is pioneering piezoelectric sidewalks in her Chicago hometown as well as abroad. Her pilot sidewalk in Ann Arbor gave her data on how to best create a sub-flooring system with intelligent "harvesting" to store and then apply energy generated from footfalls to lighting and other low energy use appliances. Now her company POWERLeap is working to get needed investment to create commercially available tiles. Redmond's dearest hope is to have permanently installed sidewalks in Chicago. DUE DATE: 2011.

NOx Sucking Sidewalk at VW Plaza Wolfburg

Photo credit of VW Plaza Wolfburg via Heidelburg Cement.

3. Self Cleaning Sidewalks Invade Europe.

In the third largest city of Malmö, a stretch of 80 meters of busy city sidewalk on Amiralsgatan has had tiles cement tiles that are specially treated with titanium dioxide nanoparticles in order to suck up transport-generated gases, primarily nitrogen oxides (NOx). City engineers have begun to measure the air compared to a similar city stretch without the tiles and found that thus far there has been a 5 percent reduction in NOx. While that may seem small, using the tiles (which continue to absorb NOx and turn it into the water-soluble nitrate NO-3 over their lifetime) can mean the difference between meeting EU mandated air quality goals, or not. The use of these tiles is spreading: IKEA has them at their Milan, Italy store, in Germany they are at the VW Plaza in Wolfsburg. Meanwhile the Dives in Misericordia Church in Rome and a car sculpture in Dundee, UK, have also been made with the NOx-sucking cement. DUE DATE: Ongoing.

Piezo Generating Tiles at Shibuya Station

4. Japan Jiggles, Jumps, and Hops for Power.

Soundpower Corporation, as its name implies, is looking at both sound and vibrations to generate power to run different lighting systems. The most well-know installation thus far has been tiles of power-generating floor at Shibuya's Hachiko Square which light up an interactive display nearby, and a similar installation at the Bank of Japan, but the company is also working on sound power-generating batteries so that users can charge their cell phones as they speak. Soundpower had promised to have a power-generating home flooring tile for floors and steps ready last fall, but has not yet released a new delivery date. DATE DUE: DELAYED

Kids jumping on piezoelectric tiles photo

Photo of kids jumping on Pavegen piezoelectric tiles credit Pavegen.

5. Kids Take Power Generating Into Their Own Feet in the UK.

The City of London has plans to install thousands of power-generating tiles from Pavegen over the next two years. A pilot program will start this summer in a set of stairs in the London subway. Pavegen slabs around bus stops are planned to illuminate the stops, and at pedestrian crossings to help light them up at night and draw drivers' attention. Rather than connect to other small lights, the Pavegen tile has the light built in. But the company says just 5% of the average energy generated in high traffic areas will go to lighting the LEDS in the recycled-rubber pavers, while the rest can be channeled to other uses. Pavegen founder Laurence Kemball-Cook, who is still putting together investment for commerical production of the pavers, has said that high-traffic playgrounds would also be prime Pavegen installation sites, and he has taken the pavers on tour to UK schools. DATE DUE: 2012

Design pieces of sell-illuminated piezoelectric shoe

Design specs for Alberto Villareal's self-illuminating piezoelectric shoe.

6. Cheaper Kinetic Cloth Could Appear Under Your Feet As Well As Your Shoes.

These shoes, called BrightWalk, are currently only a design prototype from Alberto Villareal's Zanic Design. While there are no current plans for production, a recent technological breakthrough at Princeton university may make self-illuminating shoes like BrightWalk and self-illuminating sidewalks with Pavegen or other tiles much more economically feasible. Princeton's breakthrough was to combine, as TreeHugger's Jaymi Heimbuch writes, "silicone with nanoribbons of lead zirconate titanate. PZT is the most efficient of kinetic-energy harvesting materials...a whole slew of possibilities for where piezoelectric materials can be used - from inside the body to the soles of our shoes." By printing piezo onto sheets that can be used in myriad applications perhaps cities can truly begin to be people powered. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, researchers were flooded with requests from consumer companies - everything from shoe companies to pacemaker manufacturers - wanting to employ the piezo cloth. DUE DATE: UNKNOWN