UTSA engineering team harvests energy from roads

TxDOT signs $1.32 million contract for smart road project

SAN ANTONIO – An incredible technological idea could change the way we see our roadways thanks to an engineering team at UTSA whose project has landed it a $1.32 million contract with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Most people don't see traffic as a positive thing, but UTSA engineering professor Samer Dessouky feels differently.

"What if we could make the roads to generate their own revenue?" Dessouky said.

He's working on that now by creating technology that would harvest energy from high-traffic roads. The prototype in his lab shows how it would work.

The top part is a layer of asphalt that cars would drive on. Underneath that is the device he and a group of students are building, which could be installed below the roads.

"That's why you won't feel it and you won't see it, because we drive right here on top of the road," he said. "Once the load that comes from the wheel or tires is applied over the devices, it activates sensors, which activate electric voltage. This electric voltage we could use and harvest through wires to charge batteries."

Once that energy is stored it can be used for tons of things, like turning on street lights, traffic lights, billboards, warning systems or sensors. Dessouky hopes some day in the future these devices could even contribute to city energy grids.

It's a project that TxDOT just jumped on board with, signing a $1.32 million contract to build the devices.

Dessouky and his team of students will have until around August of 2016 to perfect the technology. Once it's finished, it will be tested on San Antonio's high-traffic roadways. If that is successful, Dessouky's technology could be placed in highways across the state.

When the time comes, the devices would be installed during regular road maintenance so as not to create extra construction.

About the Author: