Turning your footsteps into energy

Laurence Kemball-Cook is the inventor of the Pavegen, a deceptively simple but functional innovation which converts the bounces from our everyday footsteps into energy.

Video source: TEDTalentSearch / YouTube.

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LAURENCE KEMBALL-COOK: Imagine if your walk to work in the morning could power the lights in your walk home in the evening.

The average person, during their lifetime, has around 150 million footsteps, so that means that you alone, with that total amount of energy you could have generated, would power the average house for around 3 weeks. Now I've been intrigued by this untapped energy resource, and I've been looking at ways of how we can harness something that's literally underneath our feet.

So as an industrial design engineer, I used to work at one of Europe's largest energy companies. And I was looking at how do you make street lighting and power applications within our cities more sustainable. Now we all know the common problems with things like solar and things like wind, in that when there's no sun, there's no power. And there's a high degree of shading within our cities, which means it's very inefficient to run solar. And also with wind, when there's no wind, it's very hard to use a power that's not actually there.

So I've been thinking about it and looking at how you could develop a concept that would allow you to harness this energy resource. Now my idea is called Pavegen. It's a flooring tile that uses the kinetic energy from your footsteps and converts it to electricity. So it stores the energy from each footstep, and then it uses it so it can go into other applications. The slab moves an imperceivable amount to users, less than 5 millimetres, and it's made from mostly recycled materials, including recycled truck tyres. I have a demonstration here today on the side, and I'm just going to show you how the system works.

So every time I stand on the unit, it's plugged into the light here, a 7 watt light fitment, and also the centre of the slab lights up. So this uses 5 per cent of the energy from a footstep, and then the main light fitting on the side uses 95 per cent of that power. Now the demonstration there was just me, it was my foot, but imagine many hundreds of millions of people in the thousands of cities around the world and how we can utilise that energy source. And the places it could be used, in transportation sites, within even a shopping centre, some of these shopping centres have over 50 million people per year moving through them. So I've been looking at where this can be used, and how to develop a technology that will actually be feasible and commercial in these environments.

Some of the early designs here showed that we have a light in the centre of the unit, and I know that you get 30% more people walking on that unit because they get feedback. It lights up. It's almost like the gamification of energy saving. And I've been looking at how you can use it in other places. We now have 1,100 students that devote their lives to destroying my technology. The good thing is: they haven't succeeded yet. And in a busy corridor within a school, as they walk up and down the corridor, we're now utilising that power, and that's actually powering the corridor itself with the energy it produces. Things we've learnt about it along the way is when the students come in, at 9 in the morning, they jump on it. Then there's slightly less energy. And then what we find is they peak inbetween lessons. And during lunchtime, they're eating their food and their sweets and they've got lots of energy, so it peaks at lunchtime. And we find we get 3,000 footsteps in a half hour time period. And then as you expect, it drops off in the afternoon, but then we find it peaks at the end of the day, because the cleaners are using it themselves.

I've been looking at other ways we can realise it, and I believe that, say, fossil fuel generators powered by diesel, are really harmful for the environment. And I love festivals, but I think the worst thing about them is these generators. So I've recently installed it, and I've got a short video of how we've realised the technology.

So we have, in this one weekend alone, we charged over 1,000 mobile phones from the very people with their energy at the festival. And I hope that the festival of the future can be one entirely powered by the visitors themselves. And also recently I had the opportunity to install my system in Bulgaria, in the capital, Sofia, I got a quarter of a million people over a two-week period to walk and to run up and down it, and we powered two streetlights, and I even got the Bulgarian energy minister to walk down it and do hopscotch on it.

This summer we'll see a Tube station in London with 50% of its lighting powered entirely from people walking. This is the first time it'll be practically used in this kind of environment. And it's been really exciting for us to learn more about it in these environments.

Next is really look at as we scale up, this technology can be used on scale, it can be commercial, it can have under a 10 year payback, it can be comparable to other renewables like solar, and eventually we're hoping we can get parity to the grid with this kind of system.

Now I believe that Pavegen is a key component in coming into the future, with technologies like smartgrid, and it makes up a part of that. And as long as people keep walking, we can keep generating energy. So my dream is, whenever all of you walk to work in the morning and over the next few years, every step you take will be on a Pavegen slab itself. Thank you.

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