Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Roads that Light Themselves

I've added a new tag to the list of keywords this blog uses (see to the right): Innovation. Instead of occasionally telling about an Israeli invention as a way of scoffing at the boycotters, I've decided to tell about them as part of what Israel is. A positive narrative, not a reacting negative one.

Here's today's offering: roads that generate electricity. Someone who knows more than I about physics and engineering told me recently that there may be a downside to this invention: vehicles traveling on such roads may find that their use of fuel is a bit higher; then again, he said, perhaps not. If the energy being harnessed by the roads is otherwise simply being lost, the new invention is pure gain. (Well, pure gain minus the cost of tampering with existing roads. You might want to buy stock in your nearby asphalt company, or in steamrollers. But not in steamrollers from Caterpillar - they're boycotted).

Update: an Israeli chemist has just won the Nobel Prize. Ada Yonath, from the Wiezman Institute. I can't tell you what it is she got the prize for, but apparently it's something to do with antibiotics, and is part of an arc of research which is already saving lives and will save more as it gets built upon. Time to divest from the Wiezman Institute, don't you think?


Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

The electricity-generating road was invented in 2005 by Leonardo Scott, an Argentinian engineer. If you have Spanish, read about it here. If you don't -- learn the relevant languages!

As for your other reflections, I think it's possible to boycott certain aspects of a country while taking advantage of it's technology. The countries that boycotted South African didn't stop performing heart transplants, a technique developed by an Afrikaner doctor at the height of Apartheid. And while Israel boycotts Wagner, it's very careful not to boycott the guided missile, a Nazi breakthrough.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Yonath won the prize for research that illuminated the structure of ribosomes, which translate DNA "code" into protein chains. This research was fundamental for many reasons.

A number of antibiotics target this process, and Yonath was able to use her new techniques to understand how these antibiotics actually work.


The Argentine invention is very different from the Israeli invention. It does not use piezoelectric materials; instead, it uses rollers to generate electricity via friction. This increases the drag on cars traveling on the road, so that they burn slightly more fuel and transfer a fraction of the resulting kinetic energy to the generators; in other words, the Argentine roller-based approach results in a net LOSS of energy, rather than recapturing energy that is currently wasted.

In contrast, the Israeli invention uses "piezoelectric" materials (materials that respond to pressure or vibrations by generating electricity).

Unlike the roller-based invention, the Israeli idea does not add new drag to vehicles. Instead, the Israeli device captures roadway vibrations that already exist today, but which currently do nothing but slowly tear the pavement apart and annoy our ears. The invention uses these existing vibrations to generate electricity.

So, Yaakov, I don't see any additional fuel costs with this invention.

I'm not sure how realistic this invention is for general purposes, because of the requirement to repave huge stretches of road and a big question mark around how one would maintain long stretches of device-laced road surface over a period of years. But I can imagine some specific locales in which such devices might be quite useful.


Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

It all depends, Zvi. Maybe (and I don't know the full details, but it's a possibility) the energy transfer due to vibrations and noise is larger than that required to make the rollers roll. It all depends on design, materials, etc. We're not talking perfect surfaces here. After all, my countryman won a prize in Switzerland with his invention. It's not like it makes no sense. But agreed, the principles involved in both devices are different.

Still, it's wrong for Israel to boycott Wagner.