Turning traffic into electricity is the goal of a bill currently on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.
AB306, proposed by Silver Lake Assemblyman Mike Gatto, proposes to convert the vibrations created by passing traffic on a highway into electricity.
Transforming mechanical pressure into electricity is a science called piezoelectricity, said Qibing Pei, a professor of material science and engineering at UCLA.
“Certain materials, when you press on them, generate a voltage – and we’re trying to capture it,” Pei said.
Pei has been working on creating a more efficient material from which to extract piezoelectric energy. He said he was asked by the university to look at the bill some months ago, and added himself to a list of supporters to the bill.
Although there are some current examples of piezoelectricity being
used, mostly in Japan, the current materials are expensive and do not produce a lot of electricity.
Instead of using the more traditional crystals, Pei’s research team has been using polymer plastics and rubbers to create the sensors which create electricity.
Besides being placed under highways, which are frequently compressed by passing traffic, Pei said another place where piezoelectricity could be harnessed is in the suspension of cars.
“When a car accelerates or decelerates, you would put pressure on the material and create energy,” he said. “The same material would make the drive smoother and would convert into electricity.”
According to some studies, said Pei, this energy could decrease gas consumption by about 10 percent.