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The Lights On This Soccer Field Are Powered As Players Run

A people-powered soccer field, in the middle of a favela in Brazil.

A typical soccer player runs about seven miles in a single game. A new soccer field in Rio de Janiero puts every footstep to use: Under the astroturf, power-harvesting tiles capture kinetic energy and use it to light the field.

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The people-powered soccer field is in the middle of a favela where kids typically play pickup games in the street, and where electricity blackouts are common. “I knew that if we could power the field in the favela, we could change renewable energy perceptions in developing countries,” says Laurence Kemball-Cook, founder of Pavegen, the company that makes the tiles. Pavegen worked on the project as part of the Shell Make The Future initiative, which aims to inspire students around the world to pursue careers in renewable energy.


With each footstep, the tiles collect a small amount of energy, which is supplemented by a few solar panels around the field. “On a fully charged battery, the technology can power lights and the surrounding favela for up to 10 hours,” explains Kemball-Cook. “I believe this will make a massive difference to a place that so often goes without electricity–they can now become a core part of their own energy generation.”

As the team installed the new field, they had a captive audience. “Before the astroturf had even been set on the pitch, the children were eager to test out the technology, jumping and playing on the tiles,” Kemball-Cook says. “Of course, knowing that their energy was being stored in a tangible and useful way really helped. They couldn’t wait to see the lights illuminate the pitch at night, knowing they had helped power them.”

It isn’t the first time that the technology has been used with students; the tiles have also been installed in the hallways of about a dozen schools. The company has also installed the tiles on a marathon track and in a subway station. But they ultimately want to use the tiles on a much larger scale to help power entire cities.

“If one person steps on our tiles, they can power a lightbulb for a few seconds,” says Kemball-Cook. “This, amplified on a large scale, would equate to millions of footsteps on our tiles. The applications we could power are endless in any area with high footfall. In the future we hope to become part of the fabric of urban infrastructure in smart cities as a whole, not just playgrounds and stadiums.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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