California is putting $2 million into research to determine whether gridlock can be a beneficial source of electricity. The technology at the heart of the idea is piezoelectric crystals, which could turn mechanical energy from traffic into usable electricity that can be added to the power grid. The approach seeks to harness energy that is usually wasted, thus providing an additional source of renewable energy for the state’s residents.

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The California Energy Commission is looking for a research facility to conduct small-scale tests on harnessing the energy that is currently being lost from vehicles traveling on the state’s roadways. Piezoelectricity uses naturally occurring crystals to capture heat generated from moving vehicles and convert it into electricity for any number of uses. The primary objective of the research will be to determine whether a cost-effective system can be installed to produce a substantial amount of energy.

Related: Piezoelectric energy-generating roads proposed for California

“It’s not hard to see the opportunity in California,” said Mike Gravely, the commission’s deputy division chief of energy research and development. “It’s an energy that’s created but is just currently lost in vibration.”

California currently has a goal of producing 50 percent of its electricity with renewables by 2030, and the energy commission says the state is on target to reach 25 percent by the end of this year. The $2 million research fund for testing new technologies will come from the California Public Utilities Commission, which expects to award a contract in the spring.


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