Sustainable Sidewalks?

By now we’re used to new green technology making the news: we’ve seen everything from electric vehicles to solar panels become mainstream concerns. But green sidewalks? It’s hard to imagine sidewalks as being particularly dangerous to the environment – which may be what the designers of this new sidewalk were thinking when they designed it. Rather than improving a resource wasting design, they’ve made a sidewalk that actually benefits the environment.

PaveGen makes slabs of recycled rubber which use the kinetic energy from people’s footsteps to create electricity for nearby appliances. The slabs will see their first commercial use on a pathway between the Westfield Stratford City mall and the London Olympic stadium. Though only 20 tiles will be used, an expected 30 million people will use that path in its first year – overall they will provide enough power for half of the mall’s outdoor lighting. That’s a lot, considering its coming from something as incidental as a front door or a lamppost.

So how do these tiles translate kinetic energy into electricity? Well, it’s a secret. But that hasn’t stopped people from feeling cautiously optimistic about the project. While each panel provides very little energy on its own, a large amount of the tiles can produce quite a bit of energy, and since they take so little effort – no more effort than we’re already making, in fact – they can be a nice backdrop for sustainability. Perhaps in the future, our electric cars can drive on streets which translate kinetic energy into more electricity.

As with most new technology, it’s unclear if the use of these green sidewalks will ever be quite that prominent. Largely, it depends on how much they cost to produce – if they’re too expensive, they’ll probably never become widespread. It’s the struggle of most environmentally friendly technology: it has to be not only innovative and energy efficient but cheap, too. Like the mechanism that makes them work, the price of the slabs is currently unknown – but the creator insists that their current price is much higher than what it will be in the future.

The pavement slabs are engaging because they let anyone get involved in sustainability just by taking a few steps, and they are easy to install virtually anywhere: they can be made the same size as existing concrete slabs, so they can replace outdated sidewalks. Overall they’re a really creative way to look at energy and electricity, and hopefully they’ll inspire more innovative designs.