By Laura Goldman
Energy conservation is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about freeways jammed with idling vehicles.
But in California, which has some of the most congested freeways in the country, that's about to change. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved a pilot program in which piezoelectric crystals will be installed on several freeways.
Energy conservation is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about freeways jammed with idling vehicles.Jeff Turner / Flickr
No, these aren't some kind of new-agey crystals with mystical powers. Piezoelectric crystals, about the size of watch batteries, give off an electrical discharge when they're mechanically stressed, such as when a vehicle drives over them. Multiply that by thousands of vehicles and it creates an electric current that can be harvested to feed the grid.
In fact, scientists estimate the energy generated from piezoelectric crystals on a 10-mile stretch of freeway could provide power for the entire city of Burbank (population: more than 105,000).
"I still get stopped on the street by people who ask what happened to the idea of using our roads to generate electricity," said Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles assemblyman, in a press release announcing the program. "California is the car capital of the world and we recycle just about everything. So why not capture the energy from road vibrations and put it to good use?"
Piezoelectric-based energy‐harvesting technology is already being used in other countries. Since 2009, all the displays in the East Japan Railway Company's Tokyo station have been powered by people walking on the piezoelectric flooring. Italy has signed a contract that will install this technology in a portion of the Venice-to-Trieste Autostrada. Israel is already using this technology on some highways, which is how Gatto got the idea for the pilot program in California. A friend returning from a trip to Israel raved about a road that produced energy.
"If piezoelectric‐based technology has the potential to match the performance, reliability and costs of existing or emerging renewable energy sources, then it can potentially diversify California's resource portfolio and ultimately increase grid reliability and reduce costs to ratepayers," states a report prepared for the CEC in 2014 by international certification body and classification society DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability (now known as DNV GL).
Piezoelectric technology has been used for years in electric guitars and sonar. The crystals are "in effect the reverse of sonar: a vibration comes in and an electric pulse comes out," according to the press release. This video provides an animated illustration of how they could generate electricity on roadways.
After California Gov. Brown vetoed an assembly bill Gatto introduced in 2011 that would have launched two piezoelectric pilot programs in California, Gatto asked the CEC to study the technology. Five years later, the CEC has agreed to fund pilot projects around the state.
If they are successful, perhaps other states will consider harvesting electricity from their busy roadways.
"Thirty years ago, no one would have believed that black silicon panels in the desert could generate 'solar' power," Gatto stated. "Piezoelectric technology is real and I am glad the state has finally acknowledged its potential in becoming an energy source."
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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