Smart infrastructure to harvest energy from roads

Roads that generate electricity from passing cars and lorries are part of a UK project aiming to introduce so-called smart infrastructure onto local road networks.

smart infrastructure
New road surfaces will be developed to harvest energy from passing traffic (Image: Lancaster University)

The ‘SMART Connected Community: Live Labs’ project will focus on Aylesbury with input from researchers from Lancaster University’s Department of Engineering.

Led by Buckinghamshire County Council, the project has received £4.5m in grant funding from the SMART Places Live Labs Programme and is one of eight Live Labs projects. The £23m programme, funded by the Department for Transport, is led by the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT).

The Live Labs project will test technological advances encompassing wireless communication sensors, smart materials, and energy generation and storage.

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Researchers from Lancaster University’s Department of Engineering will design, fabricate and test smart roads that generate power using piezoelectricity and hydromechanical dynamics from passing cars, trucks and buses.

The electricity harvested by the ‘smart’ roads will be stored by roadside batteries to power street lamps, road signs, air pollution monitors, plus sensors that detect when potholes are forming.

In addition, the smart roads will generate data on vehicle speeds, the types of vehicle travelling along the roads, as well as other information on traffic flows.

The two-year research into smart road surfaces is led by Lancaster’s Prof Mohamed Saafi.

“This is a very exciting project where we will develop novel smart road surfaces that harvest energy to power sensors that can monitor both the structural integrity of road surfaces and traffic flows – providing valuable new data streams that will help to significantly improve the efficiency of highways management and maintenance,” he said in a statement. “We see these next-generation energy harvesting road surfaces as an important part of future smart cities.”

The researchers will develop bespoke smart infrastructure designs specific to Aylesbury’s road conditions. These designs will be tested using computer simulations to determine the optimum number and locations of energy harvesting sections before being constructed and installed in Buckinghamshire.