Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in the US has awarded a $1.32m contract to researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) to design and develop sensors that can harvest and convert energy created by moving vehicles on roadways into renewable electricity.
TxDOT has awarded the contract as part of the jointly funded Federal Highway Administration’s state research programme
This system would also enable TxDOT to monitor the health of roadways in order to bolster traveller safety.
The research programme is led by UTSA associate professor of civil and environmental engineering Samer Dessouky and Lubinda Walubita at TTI.
The team will develop asphalt-embedded, piezoelectric sensors, which will utilise energy produced from moving vehicles to power roadside lights, traffic signals, billboards, charging stations for electric cars.
“This project could make Texas a leader in the use of piezoelectric technology.”
Field tested already by several US and international studies, piezoelectric materials can produce power in response to the applied pressures from traffic loading.
These materials also produce power without releasing greenhouse gases unlike fossil fuel-generated power, and require no extra space as the power-generating modules are incorporated into the road layers.
UTSA College of Engineering dean JoAnn Browning said: “This project could make Texas a leader in the use of piezoelectric technology to create ‘smart’ roads that not only generate clean power but also create a sustainable source of revenue for transportation infrastructure.
“UTSA is committed to developing innovative solutions that impact society.”
The research team comprises experts in pavement materials, multifunctional nanomaterials, sensor design and surface chemistry from UTSA, TTI and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).
Under the phase one, which is expected to take 18 months, the project will involve design and development of harvesting modules.
Once the following phases of this project get approval, the researchers expect having a complete, harvesting and sensing system ready for implementation within three-and-a-half years.
To be installed permanently 2in below the pavement surface, the system would not interfere with the asphalt pavement milling and overlaying maintenance.
The system would also be made from low-cost piezoelectric materials and sensors, and therefore, would not increase pavement maintenance costs.