Fast food burger chains aren't exactly darlings of the carbon reduction movement. But one New Jersey Burger King is flipping its image by installing kinetic energy harvesters in its drive-though lane to convert energy from slowing cars to electricity. This comes just days after McDonald's announced it will install an electric vehicle charging station and LED lighting fixtures at one North Carolina outpost.
Roadway kinetic energy harvesters have been criticized because the resistance they create hurts gas mileage, thus creating just another inefficient means of converting carbon-based fuels into electricity. New Energy Technologies Inc., maker of the MotionPower prototype harvesters being tested at the Burger King, plans to circumvent this issue by installing its generators in places where vehicles are slowing anyhow, like the approaches to toll booths, high-traffic intersections, freeway exit ramps, and neighborhoods with low-speed zones.
"More than 150,000 cars drive through our Hillside store alone each year, and I think it would be great to capture the wasted kinetic energy of these hundreds of thousands of cars to generate clean electricity," Andrew Paterno, co-owner of several NYC metro-area Burger Kings, told CleanTechnica.
But will these kinetic generators really make a dent in the restaurant's carbon footprint? Not even. Between raising and slaughtering the livestock, transporting the food products, preparing the burgers, and the emissions of cars idling away in the drive-through lane, the amount of clean energy that would need to be produced to begin to offset a single store is far more than the negligible amount that will be returned to the grid from passing drive-through traffic.
That doesn't necessarily make it a bad idea. Certainly it's better than nothing, and New Energy's tactic of installing generators where cars are already wasting kinetic energy is far better than placing them on the open road. Resources might be better spent finding more efficient ways for restaurants to convert spent cooking oils to electricity or by installing solar panels on the roof. Still, it's heartening to see a carbon-intensive business doing a little something to green itself. At least it might make us feel a little better about picking up that Whopper.