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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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.