The kids that live at the Morro da Mineira slum in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro love to play soccer on the nearby community field. However, thanks to constant power shortages, they could rarely extend their games beyond sunset. Now, thanks to some innovative thinking and extraordinary technology, the young players will be able to use the field all night long if they wish, provided . . . they keep running!
That's because at this newly renovated soccer pitch, all the kinetic energy expended by the players is harnessed and used to power the lights. The hi-tech field, which was officially opened on September 10th by legendary soccer player Pele, was spearheaded by Royal Dutch Shell's "Let's Go" initiative that encourages people to find new ways to deliver energy from cleaner and more sustainable sources.
For this project, the company who was helping re-turf the dilapidated soccer field in this impoverished area of the city, decided to partner with UK-based Pavegen, that manufacturers tiles which harvest pedestrian energy. The tiles work in conjunction with solar panels that have also been installed around the field, to feed electricity to a system of floodlights overhead.
Pavegen officials say that when the 200 tiles were being laid below the astro-turf, the super-excited kids were eager to help test the technology by jumping and playing on them. CEO Kemball-Cook says what really thrilled them was seeing their energy stored and then used to illuminate the field at night. He hopes that the hi-tech soccer field, which has transformed the community into a "real-life" science experiment, will not only help improve the young players soccer skills, but also, ignite their interest in science.
This is not the first time Pavegen tiles have made kids happy. Earlier this year, the installation of eight tiles at New York's Riverdale County School to help power classroom lights and charge electronic devices, had students jumping with joy. The tiles have also been used to harness the energy of runners at the 2013 Paris Marathon and that of commuters at a number of London's Subway stations.
Made largely from rubber and other recycled materials, the tiles are the brainchild of Pavegen's 28-year-old CEO, Laurence Kemball-Cook. While the Industrial designer will not reveal too many secrets about the technology behind the unassuming looking green tile, he does say that it uses a system of cogs, which when stepped on, spin like tops and act as generators.
He asserts that Pavegen tiles are different from other kinetic energy harvesting systems, most of which are based on piezoelectricity. Kemball-Cook believes that piezoelectricity relies on high spikes, which makes it difficult to obtain a consistent flow of energy. His solution, which he describes as a hybrid, is similar to piezoelectricity in that when people walk on the slab, it deflects the top sheet by about 5mm or just enough for it to be converted to electricity. But what happens after that remains a mystery.
At a cost of $500 USD per tile, the technology is still too expensive to be deployed on a large scale. However, Kemball Cook hopes to bring it down by refining the manufacturing process further, so that he can fulfill his dream of using Pavegen tiles to power the entire world!