This summer at the largest urban mall in Europe, visitors may notice something different at their feet. Twenty bright green rubber tiles will adorn one of the outdoor walkways at the Westfield Stratford City Mall, which abuts the new Olympic stadium in east London.
The squares aren’t just ornamental. They are designed to collect the kinetic energy created by the estimated 40 million pedestrians who will use that walkway in a year, generating several hundred kilowatt-hours of electricity from their footsteps. That’s enough to power half the mall’s outdoor lighting.
The slabs are produced by Pavegen Systems, a London startup launched in 2009 by Laurence Kemball-Cook, a fresh-faced, 26-year-old Londoner who developed his clean energy idea while earning a degree in industrial design and technology at Loughborough University. The 17.7-by-23.6-inch (45-by-60-centimeter) tiles are designed to be used wherever pedestrians congregate en masse: transportation hubs such as including train, subway, and bus stations; airports; schools; malls; bustling shopping avenues. The power generated from millions of footfalls can be used to operate a range of low-power applications, including lighting, signs, digital ads, and Wi-Fi zones.
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Nearly 30 permanent and temporary Pavegen projects have been installed in the U.K. and Europe. For two years now, four of its tiles have lined a hallway at the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys near Canterbury, capturing energy from footfalls of its 1,100 students to keep the corridor lit. Pavegen has also harnessed music festival attendees’ foot-stamping to charge cell phones and power LED lights.
But higher profile gigs loom. Pavegen has partnered with Siemens, the German technology company, to install five tiles in Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia, to power lighting there. And large, sponsored installations are planned for a major London train station and an Athens shopping mall this summer. Interest in the technology is also growing in the United States. Several American schools are planning to install Pavegen tiles, and Kemball-Cook says federal government agencies have expressed an interest in the technology as well.
Kemball-Cook got the idea for the slabs while working for a power company as part of his Loughborough studies. He was tasked with looking into solar and wind energy technologies for cities, but concluded that neither technology was suitable for urban areas. That’s when it hit him that it would be better to take advantage of people-generated power.