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What If The Road Could Harvest Energy Every Time You Used Your Brakes?

This nondescript mat could power toll plazas and parking garages with energy from vehicles braking on top of them.

What If The Road Could Harvest Energy Every Time You Used Your Brakes?
[Photos: Flickr user Alan Stark]

The environment around us contains all sorts of untapped energy. From heat that escapes buildings to the kinetic energy of people’s movements, there’s lot of potential to generate new (and clean) sources of power.

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The company Energy Intelligence is focused on one area: kinetic energy from braking vehicles. The Massachusetts startup is developing a mat that would sit in front of toll plaza and parking garages and provide power to nearby systems.


“It’s a flat mat that sits on top of the road to generate electricity from the motion of vehicles,” says CEO Daniel Shani. “When you slow down to approach a parking garage or truck weigh station, you’re dissipating lots of energy we aim to make better use of.”

The mat contains a pressurized fluid and a series of mechanical levers. As you slow down, the liquid shifts and drives the levers, generating power which goes out through an inverter that conditions the electricity for general use.

Energy Intelligence has been based at the Greentown Labs incubator in Somerville, but it’s planning to move to Buffalo, New York soon. That’s because it recently won a $500,000 second prize in the 43North business plan competition, a New York state initiative. It will now get a year’s free office space and a host of other services helping it to grow.


The company has developed several prototypes and hopes to start a field trial in the middle of next year. It could have a commercial product by 2016.

Shani says operators should be able to make back their investment within two years, though the energy obviously would vary a lot depending on the location. The opportunity in some places is enormous. For example, the Peace Bridge linking Buffalo with Canada near Niagara Falls sees 5,000 trucks day. The braking of these vehicles alone could power the bridge’s operations five times over, he reckons.

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“There’s a lot of potential for sites like that to be more energy self-sufficient,” Shani says.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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