The advances made in the pioneering technology of footstep energy has been much more rapid than the progress in solar power when it was starting up, according to the CEO of Pavegen, a UK company at the leading edge of the (kinetic harvesting) business.
(Another story by me on Pavegen – here.)
Laurence Kemball-Cook, who founded Pavegen in 2009, said advances in kinetic harvesting in five years were equal to the progress solar power made over the first 20 years of its development.
Pavegen’s product is radical yet simple, no more than a rubber tile that generates around seven watts of electricity every time somebody steps on it. Ten tiles can power a street light through the night.
There are now over 100 Pavegen installations in around 30 countries, in train stations,
shopping centres, airports and public spaces, although they are still small scale trial schemes. Most involve no more than tens or, at the most, hundreds of tiles. One of the latest installations was in the Crystal building in the Royal Victoria Docks, East London. Another is planned for the Washington’s Dupont Circle. A third for a side street off Oxford St in London.
One of the busiest installations is in London Heathrow’s Terminal 3 where the energy from the footsteps of passing pedestrians on 51 tiles powers LED lights in a busy corridor. The Pavegen tiles are in Federation Square, Melbourne and in SNCF (French National Railway Company) offices in Paris, where they power LED strip lighting,
The tiles do more than simply harvest energy. They can collect and communicate real-time footfall data in order to show how many people are walking when and where.
Earlier in 2015 Pavegen raised £1.32m more than its original target in a crowdfunding campaign. It reached its initial target of £750k in just 59 hours on Crowdcube, after opening in May. It reached £1m in less than a week, gathering 1000 investors within a fortnight, before closing the campign, after 45 days, on £2,062,540.
And in a further strengthening of its credentials, Apple Senior Executive Jeff Martin became the first member of Pavegen’s Advisory Board. And CEO Laurence Kemball-Cook was invited by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to join a trade mission to the 2015 Milan EXPO.
I met Kemball-Cook in 2013, demonstrating what the Pavegen tile can do. Halfway through his keynote address to students at the Imperial College “Invent the Future” idea generation session he asked us (30 students and a few more people) to stand up and jump into the air once.
“There, you just generated enough electricity to power a mobile phone for half an hour.”
So what does this London-based green energy start-up do? Reduced to the essentials, its technology is a rubber tile, 45 x 60 centimeters. When someone steps on it, the tile bends slightly, around 5 millimeters. The energy generated by the footstep is “harvested”, and converted into electricity – about 7 watts per footstep. A few tiles might be enough to power a street lamp on a relatively busy street. The technology could be useful anywhere from the centre of London to a remote off-grid tourist site, powered cleanly by the people who visit it.
The £2m crowdfunding investment will aid the company’s growth at its new facility in Cambridge, adding a renewed focus on R&D, sales, and helping bring the cost of technology down to equate to standard flooring, while increasing the power output from each step.
Kemball-Cook came up with the idea as an undergraduate, studying industrial design and technology at Loughborough University. He was looking for appropriate power solutions for urban areas when he thought about using footsteps to generate electricity. And people do a lot of walking. The NHS website says the average person takes up to 4,000 steps per day.
The tiles are claimed to be more efficient than any other form of energy harvesting technology. And, unlike mainstream renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, they don’t offend people, blending in perfectly with the streetscape. In some locations that can be said to be an improvement on the existing pavement (sidewalk). People create energy unknowingly, just by walking past. The process is Co2-free and a renewable power source too.
Even the material in the tiles is recycled, coming from old lorry tyres. The top surface is made from 100% recycled rubber and the base of the slab is constructed from over 80% recycled materials. The system can be retrofitted in place of existing flooring systems as well as specified for new developments.
The technology is best suited to high-footfall urban environments. Pavegen has installed the tiles in a number of temporary trial locations, including in the Westfield Stratford City Mall, next to the London Olympic Stadium. The tiles have been installed at music festivals, to enable people to charge their mobile phones. In 2011 Pavegen tiles powered the lights on the Christmas tree in the main Milton Keynes shopping centre.100,000 shoppers generated 3,000kW.
During the 2012 London Olympics, the company installed the tiles at West Ham Tube station, one of the main London Underground entrances to the main stadium.
In 2013 Pavegen laid 176 tiles at the Paris Marathon, spanning the finish line at the Champs-Elysées. Runners and the crowd generated 4.7 kWh. Another installation was on the world’s largest floating stage for WWF Earth Hour at Marina Bay, Singapore.
In 2013 Pavegen fitted tiles at Renaissance Works central London offices, matching the existing style and design of the site. Employees and visitors can now light their way at the main entrance of the office, simply by walking on the energy harvesting tiles. Footfall data is collected from each tile.
Also in 2013, the company installed 24 tiles, covering 12 metres, in a corridor at Simon Langton Grammar School, in Kent, one of its largest permanent installations.
As any developing technology company must, Pavegen is now working to reduce unit costs so the tiles become widely affordable, and as cheap as standard floor coverings that don’t generate anything at all, apart from a cleaning bill.
In a press release, Pavegen said Jeff Martin’s role as an advisor will involve “building out the technology within the smart city environment, ensuring that Pavegen is one of the core components within the smart cities of the future and other digital infrastructure.”
Jeff Martin said, “I believe in Pavegen and its products. The best product thinking and innovation will be less about consumer electronics and must have mobile entertainment devices, and far more about the needs to make sustainable energy both more consumer relevant and accessible – equally for the rich and in the developing world. It’s a breakthrough technology that will make a difference to the way we live and engage in the future – through harnessing the power of human-generated energy.”
Jeff Martin will be joined on Pavegen’s advisory board by former President of Interface Flooring Greg Colando. Pavegen says it will utilise the men’s wealth of experience and network “to reach commercial viability and global expansion in the near future”.