by , 04/30/07

Highway Turbine wind power windpower highway streets

Wind, as we all know, can be used to generate electricity. Turbines installed in wind-prone areas have been proven generators of clean, green power. But most of the time, you need open areas and large spaces to locate these. So how do you bring wind power to the city? Mark Oberholzer may have just the solution, designing a system that would generate power from a rather unique place: The New Jersey highway. And he doesn’t propose that we install wind turbines near the highway, but rather, that they be put in the highway, and that they power a light-rail transport system.

The design, a runner-up in the 2006 Metropolis Mag Next Generation Design Competition proposed the integration of wind-turbines into the highway barriers that divide the traffic. These turbines would generate power from the wind created by the vehicles that drive past them in opposite directions. Originally conceived as a single row of vertical-axis rotary turbines, it has now been redesigned to include two rows, one stacked on top of each other, with the end power being used to power a light rail system.

“The peaks of traffic flow more or less coincide with those of energy use,” Mark says. As the traffic peak hour matches requires the moving of a large amount of people, integrating it with a traffic rail system may have a second beneficial effect: that of decongesting the busy highways.

+ Metropolis Mag

Via Ecogeek

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  1. David Fraatz December 27, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Ok, another thought. A huge portion of the costs involved in making electricity is the inverter, batteries and transformer. If I put in a separate radiant heat electric source in my home, which is only powered directly by the turbine without an inverter or transformer, I could use a home wind energy turbine with less investment. I use about $2,500 each year on heating the home and heating hot water. If I had a hot water system that only used utility gas when the water was not warm enough from the turbine powered heater, and a furnace that did the same, I would save utility usage. My turbine would be saving me money more effectively than if I tried to create 120-volt supply and would cost me less. This should make the system more profitable for every homeowner.

  2. Jerry o December 2, 2007 at 5:18 am

    I taking the pro on this one, and yes we do welcome opinion as well as constructive critique. The rest can go and continue building their model airplanes or finishing their map for their next Dungeons and Dragon’s game.
    I too had thought of this idea, it was back in 2000 or 2001 I think. I had mentioned it to an old roommate and he shot it down considering the amount of money and trouble for it to be accepted by all the governing agencies. My thought was for it to involve small vertical turbines, and have them mounted on the surface of (K-rail, Jersey Barriers, Traffic dividers). I didn’t research to see if it was feasible considering how much energy would be gained compared to the amount of energy to create this system, but I don’t think it was or is a bad idea. What we need is a bit more collective positive energy from those of you free thinkers out there. Clean and renewable energy is the path we are going in the future, so why not hop on?

  3. David Fraatz December 1, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Also — The center island between two directions of traffic is a vortex of wind created by the traffic. Counterclockwise vertical turbines would capture that very effectively. Those concerned that this would increase drag for vehicle traffic should consider the two wind flows colliding at that point without the turbine, each reducing the force of the other. Free energy to be captured, or lost.

  4. David Fraatz December 1, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Vertical wind turbines mounted ten feet in the air on center island Jersey Barriers would gain normal wind unobstructed from trees and wind from both directions of traffic. Wind created by traffic at that height would be lost to the atomosphere if not captured and have little effect on creating drag. I’m picturing smaller vertical turbines in series sharing transformers to lower costs. No scientific degrees, just spitballing. Some of the vertical wind turbines that are small enough to be roof mounted claim to be costs effective for a home user. If combining natural wind, rising traffic wind from both sides and sharing transformers does not make it profitable then someone is not telling the truth.

  5. Roc November 3, 2007 at 2:50 am

    I’m not a scientist or an engineer but it seems that everyone assumes that the highway system doesn’t receive atmospheric wind as well. Even when there is no traffic the natural winds would supply additional energy into the system.
    This wind with or against traffic will probably do more to affect the drag on the vehicles than any usable amount of wind turbines!

  6. Bob September 11, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    I’ve seen a number of stories about harnessing wind energy from traffic, but there’s one fatal flaw. Capturing the wind increases the wind resistance on the cars. The result is that the contributing drivers are paying for all of the wind energy with increased gasoline usage. To make matters worse, since the turbine efficiency is less than 100%, they consume more energy from gasoline than they create.

    I am a huge proponent of windpower, but on first principles, this idea just can’t work.

  7. Mike May 8, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    I don’t know why people are trying to reinvent the wheel. Wind Turbines work well just as they are. Why not put them along the highway or in a place near by. I know people think they are unsightly and noisy and kill birds. But that is not very accurate. I guess if you really don’t like how they look that is up to you, but frankly the highway isn’t very exciting either. Noise and Bird fatalities has greatly been reduced over the years and Wind Turbines pay them selves back fairly quickly these days. Vertical wind turbines on nearby buildings could also be useful and they don’t have hardly any noise or bird killing problems. I agree that new innovations are great, but when something easy to implement like a good array of wind turbines hasn’t even been tried, I start thinking these pipe dream ideas are intended to make us forget about things that are already plausible. Just look what happened to electric cars.

  8. Nick A May 4, 2007 at 11:28 am

    New Jersey barriers were developed by the state of NJ in the 1950’s to keep cars and trucks from crossing the median and crashing into vehicles on the other side. That is why they are made of concrete. If you replace them with thin metal grate structures with fan blades inside, how effective do you think they will be in redirecting an 80,000 pound tractor trailer truck?

  9. Robert May 3, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    What about putting an axle under the road so that it spins when cars go over it to create electricity? Or what about plates that generate electricity from the weight of moving vehicles going over the road?

  10. andrew k from az May 3, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    One thing I’d like to point out is that the barriers are called “Jersey Barriers.” I’m not sure where they got their name, but they’re used to protect construction workers, dvide highways, and so on, and I’m not sure the design was intended only for use in New Jersey. I’m not sure where the design was intended for, but I know for a fact that “Jersey Barriers” are in use in freeways and other uses throughout the US.

  11. anon May 3, 2007 at 7:06 am

    The “don’t build rods because if you do people will drive on them”.

    That’s a croc.

  12. Graham May 2, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Anon –
    Building more freeway lanes, though it may seem counterintuitive, actually makes traffic worse. This phenomenon, known to most people familiar with transporation planning, is called induced traffic. Increased traffic capacity makes longer commutes less burdensome, and as a result, people are willing to live farther and farther from their workplace. As increasing numbers of people make similar decisions, the long-distance commute grows as crowded as the inner city, commuters clamor for additional lanes, and the cycle repeats itself. In fact, A recent UC Berkeley study covering thirty California counties between 1973 and 1990 found that, for every 10 percent increase in roadway capacity, traffic increased 9 percent within four years’ time.

  13. anon May 2, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    The problem with this idea is that at peak traffic times, traffic moves too slowly to generate much wind. I don’t know about New Jersey, but every major metro area I’ve driven in (LA, SF, DC, Seattle, Portland, Northern VA), freeways are a parking lot during peak times.

    And no, the answer isn’t that “we all ride bicycles”. The answer is to build more lanes. Like it or not.

    Or build mass transit that *works*.

    I hate the SF Bay Area for a lot of reasons, but I will say that you truly don’t need a car in the greater SF area, they have great mass transit.

    Portland has the opposite approach – they *hate* cars, they refuse to build new roads – the new plan calls for no new roads for the next 25 years. But they refuse to make public transit actually work. They’ve spent billions on light rail and a new sky tram that will never break even, and don’t do a thing to reduce congestion. Portland does everything possible to force people not to dive, but they don’t give people any workable alternative.

    In a free society, the free market, not politicians, should decide what’s ultimately best.

    And no, “HOV” is no answer either because all that does is create deliberate congestion. The stated goal of most HOVZ programs, if you read their publically available documents, is to “reduce freeway demand”. In other words the goal of HOV lanes is to *punish* us for driving on the roads that we paid for.

  14. Jafar May 2, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Erik: Good call for your support of radical design solutions, but the contention over design ideas isn’t intended to be pessimistic, but rather, to be critical. What is the point of proposing a design idea if it can’t withstand any criticism? Shouldn’t the merits and limitations be discussed? In order for design ideas to be taken seriously and pushed forward there needs to be a level of seriousness and critique. Also, ingenuity and creativity emerge in response to detractors and pessimists. People will always try to solve problems and come up with interesting solutions, but as much as we shouldn’t limit creativity, we shouldn’t limit critique.

  15. Pat Von Behren May 2, 2007 at 1:50 am

    What is the energy balance comparison between solid walls and walls with turbines? The energy to run the turbines must come from the automobiles. How does the presence or absence of a wall change the gasoline mileage? The air that is pushed into the turbines slows as it gives energy to them. The automobiles that follow the first one encounter slower air, thus increasing drag on them.

  16. Erik van Lennep May 1, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    If everytime someone posts an interesting idea on here it gets shot full of holes, you just might find less and less ideas are put forth. That would be a serious loss to all of us. So come on people, be nice, be respectful, and be supportive. It’s possible to point out shortcomings in the spirit of collaborative design without simply taking potshots.

  17. Steven Peace May 1, 2007 at 3:29 am

    Nice but idealistic idea.
    We looked into the idea of roadside mounted VAWT’s over two years ago and did some fundamental research. We discovered that the draft created from the flow of traffic was, on the whole, no where near enough to generate a viable amount of energy. There is no chance that it would produce enough to power a light railway. Furthermore, with your proposed arrangement you will find you have significant mechanical losses.
    On the whole the other correspondents were right; I do not think that such a scheme would be viable. However if we are to overcome the current energy invoked environmental problems we need innovative people, so I wish you good luck with your future work.

  18. Jafar April 30, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Richard: who says you “had to travel 50km”? Try living closer to where you work. It is pretty elementary.

    Kent: I agree at bit that these ideas are half-baked, but wind isn’t all that unreliable as a power source. If it is used as a secondary source, it is great, as well as much cleaner than nearly every other large power source. In fact, the efficiency and value of investment and resource to return is greater than any other source of power – even more than tidal/hydro.

    These are ideas, not great ideas, but they certainly aren’t very feasible as projects. Snow would block the jersey barriers, dust and debris which are most concentrated along highways would ruin these turbines within a season, and with wind – the larger the turbine the larger the power, so many small propellors would be more expensive than one large one.

    It is interesting that there could be a symbiotic relation between cars and light rail – but it is only a motif for making a more powerful statement, and doesn’t really contribute to the design. In reality, the power generated would go to a homogenous “grid” and it wouldn’t matter if it powered street lights or trains or your microwave oven.

    These types of projects are enticing because of their “forgiveness” power. As if, now it is fine to drive as much as you want, because you are benefitting mass transit! Which is complete b.s. Look: highways are environmentally damaging for so many reasons, nothing that a few wind turbines can fix. So, while I applaud the effort, projects such as these in my mind just try to make people feel less guilty about polluting.

  19. Warren Brooke April 30, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    Response to Richard,
    I bicycle 19km to work, and it takes about 45 minutes. The train takes an hour and is rammed with people. I find that bicycling is a great way to start and end my day. It was zero degrees C this morning and the ride was still fantastic! My bicycle doesn’t have the expensive reliability issues as my car, nor the insurance, nor the parking costs, nor the expensive fuel. I get the equivalent fuel economy of 900 miles per gallon, and the more I use my bike, the greater is my efficiency.

    The fact that we can even THINK of tapping a small portion of the energy wasted by automobile commuters to power a TRAIN demonstrates the inefficiency of the car, and the inappropriate design of our cities.

  20. Richard April 30, 2007 at 11:19 am

    @cullen : even if you had to travel 50 Km back and forth between home and work ?????

    I’m not sure that it would be feasable. More than 10 Km can become quite challenging, and when it rains, snows or freezes, your bicycle ride doesn’t look as interesting. Furthermore, for some who sweat a lot, if you don’t have a shower at work, it becomes annoying for your co-workers !!!!

    Cycling to work is great, but only for a short distance.

  21. kent beuchert April 30, 2007 at 11:11 am

    There are several issues just off the bat, beginning with advising that roadways only have alimited lefespan.
    Embedding a mechanical/electronic device seems pretty simple minded. I doubt whether much thought has gone into the implications of this scheme. Rain comes to mind also as something that willl screw up everything. This has all the earmarks of a backyard bright idea that should stay there. Wind power sucks, no matter how you configure it. Wind generated electricity has the least value of all types of generated electricity because it is unreliable.

  22. Cullen April 30, 2007 at 8:41 am

    or we could just ride bicycles.

  23. speedmaster April 30, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Some very clever ideas!

  24. Architect Leo Mac Ender April 30, 2007 at 6:37 am

    Please, my mail is

  25. Architect Leo Mac Ender April 30, 2007 at 6:36 am

    This is a great idea, how to go further?
    I´m interested to know more because I`ve right now patented some solutions nearby yours.
    Wellcom to mail me at
    for further discussions if u like.

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