Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

Energy

Engineering smarter cities, one step at a time

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 16 November 2018

Image of person walking on PavegenPavegen’s innovative flooring technology converts the kinetic energy of footsteps into off-grid electricity and data. It enables citizens to participate directly in contributing to the sustainability of their city. The company, based in London and Cambridge, believes that it is people – not technology alone – that will transform our cities.

The beginning

Laurence Kemball-Cook, founder and CEO of Pavegen, had the idea for an energy harvesting floor shortly after graduating from Loughborough University with a first-class degree in Industrial Design and Technology. Regular journeys through Victoria Station, the UK’s second busiest with 208,000 journeys a day, provided vivid inspiration. Could that footfall be useful in generating some of the city’s energy needs? Laurence set out to construct a working prototype of a flooring tile that would convert the kinetic energy from a simple footstep into off-grid electrical power. Enter Pavegen.

Energy and engagement

Pavegen’s technology – which uses electromagnetic generation – is a simple enough idea to understand. In practice, however, it proved difficult to refine into the first working Pavegen tile. Nonetheless, Lawrence persisted and eventually managed to start building a viable business.

One of Pavegen’s first commissions was on a new bridge connecting West Ham station to the London 2012 Olympic Park, where footsteps of visitors to the games powered LED lights. More high-profile commissions followed and in 2014, Pavegen worked with QEPrize donor company Shell to deploy tiles below a football pitch in a Rio favela and then in a settlement in Lagos, Nigeria. In combination with solar, these communities’ footsteps are providing the energy to light their soccer fields at night, providing a valuable and safe space for locals.

From the beginning, it was obvious to Laurence and his customers that people love to participate and to make a positive impact. Now, with a staff of 25, the team are targeting installations across smart city developments, airports and stations, schools, and retail environments.

Surface engineering

Designing and manufacturing a robust, efficient, and visually appealing flooring product of such complexity has been challenging. The system must withstand water, sand, dirt and extreme temperatures, and also meet stringent safety regulations. To achieve this, the company conducts a continuous innovation process at its R&D site, based in Cambridge and led by Pavegen’s Chief Technology Officer, Craig Webster.

Following a record-breaking fundraise using platform Crowdcube, Pavegen was able to develop its latest award-winning model, the V3. The innovative new design has a surface constructed from equilateral triangular tiles to capture more of the energy from footfall and to minimise any trip hazard.

As a pedestrian steps onto the tiles, their weight compresses the surface by between 5 and 10mm. This downward force compresses the electromagnetic generators, rotating magnets through coils and producing around three joules of electrical energy per step (or up to 7 watts per person as they walk). The energy can be used to power LED lighting, sounds, sensors, data capture, and transmission.

From powering to empowering

As well as the energy produced, Pavegen walkways now reward users for their footsteps. The tiles contain beacons which connect to smartphone apps, enabling people to convert their energy into a digital currency which they can spend, save, or pass on.

The system, developed with Jeff Martin, the digital marketing brains behind Apple’s iTunes, also provides permission-based customer analytics for Pavegen’s customers which include retail and leisure sites, together with smart city developers, local authorities and transport operators.

The company has recently deployed in an East London mall, connecting for the first time to a shopping centre’s rewards scheme. The footsteps of visitors to The Mercury mall, Romford, are being converted for discounts and offers, helping to increase loyalty to the mall and to increase awareness of the location’s sustainability investments.

International growth

Pavegen has now completed over 200 installations in 43 countries, deploying permanently in Abu Dhabi, Birmingham, Hong Kong, Lagos, London, Rio, Seoul and Washington DC. Through eye-catching experiential events with major organisations, Pavegen can also tap into communities that don’t have permanent walkways and change perceptions there too.

Bank of the West, the US division of BNP Paribas, recently partnered with Pavegen to showcase the bank’s commitment to the environment and local communities. The experiential campaign converted more than 350,000 steps into off-grid energy and rewards and donations for community renewable energy projects. Pavegen deployed in San Francisco, Sacramento and Portland, with a finale on Los Angeles’ Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Dolby Theatre, home to the Oscars ceremony.

Next Steps

In 2018, Pavegen signed a Memorandum of Understanding with global engineering and technology leader Siemens, another QEPrize donor company. With a demonstration set-up established at Siemens’ offices in London’s The Crystal, the two companies partnered on an installation in Newcastle for this year’s Great Exhibition of the North. The project showcased Siemens’ energy generation and storage capabilities. With Siemens’ immense reach in smart city power and information architecture, Pavegen is well-placed to help the company make a crucial human connection to its tech, and has further projects currently in development.

The team is now working on increasing the granularity of the data Pavegen captures, and ways to sustainably increase the power output of the systems. As more and more people decide to move to cities, new smart city technologies need to seamlessly integrate into the lives of citizens in order to maximize their usage and impact. With Pavegen, the company is providing a vital interface between smart tech and the people it serves, one step at a time.


Pavegen

Pavegen, founded in 2009, is the global leader in harvesting energy and data from footfall. Our vision is for smarter, more sustainable built environments which empower and connect people.From climate change to rapidly expanding cities, we face complex environmental and social challenges. Our technology enables people to directly engage with clean energy, to increase their understanding of sustainability issues, and to connect purposefully with brands.

Latest posts by Pavegen (see all)

    Read More

    When buildings breathe: Nature meets architecture

    • Posted by QEPrize Admin
    • 3 May 2018

    Architecture has been borrowing from Mother Nature for millennia. The first structures were made from natural materials; wood, straw, stone and soils. Many common objects that we use today are inspired by plant life too – burdock burs inspired George de Mestral to invent Velcro in 1955, and wind turbines are inspired by the fins of humpback whales!

    Today, as engineers face the issues caused by climate change and high energy consumption, they are drawing on nature again to change the way we build our homes and offices.

    Read More

    Khainza Energy: Creating cleaner fuels to reduce smoke exposure in Uganda

    • Posted by QEPrize Admin
    • 17 January 2018

    Khainza Energy produces clean, affordable, long lasting cooking gas and packages it in cylinders for sale to low income households in Uganda. The gas is produced entirely from organic waste through biochemical processes. Our gas burns with no smoke, no smell and yet costs less than charcoal!

    The idea was inspired by a woman living in Eastern Uganda. She gave birth to her first child when she was barely 16 years old. She now has 6 children, whom she has been providing for almost single handedly. Every morning at 4am, the children awake to the loud sound of an axe splitting firewood. They can hear their mother wheezing and coughing in the small kitchen as she prepares their breakfast. Three years ago, this brave woman was diagnosed with an acute respiratory infection. She had spent a large part of her life effectively “smoking”.

    Read More

    Invisible molecules that make a visible impact

    • Posted by QEPrize Admin
    • 10 January 2018

    As chemical engineers and chemists, we often don’t get to see what we create – molecules are too small to see and chemical processes often happen in closed systems. As such, when we do get to see the fruits of our labor, the result can be incredibly exciting and motivating.

    This was the case in the founding of my company, Sironix Renewables. During my PhD at the University of Minnesota, I worked with a team of scientists to develop new, eco-friendly replacements to existing chemicals and fuels. The process involved making renewably-sourced products, like fuels, detergents, and plastics. Finding a suitable replacement to an existing product is great, but for us the ‘holy grail’ was finding something that worked better than what existed.

    One of these ‘holy grail’ moments struck us when we were looking at a set of vials – all but one was filled with a cloudy, white liquid. We were looking at the hard water stability of new detergent molecules for things like spray cleaners and laundry detergents, and the cloudy, white liquid meant it didn’t work well. The one clear vial, however, was our new detergent molecule and it performed flawlessly. This was one of the few moments where we got to see the result of our work.

    Read More

    Somewhere, beyond the sea: an interview with Stephen Halbert

    • Posted by QEPrize Admin
    • 11 December 2017

    In celebration of our global QEPrize Engineering Ambassadors’ network, we met up with some of our ambassadors to find out a bit more about what they do, and why they decided to become the engineers they are today.

    Read More

    The right to breathe clean air: making the invisible visible

    • Posted by QEPrize Admin
    • 23 October 2017

    Air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) state that in 2012, around 7 million people died because of air pollution exposure. This accounted for one in eight of total global deaths. They estimate polluted air costs the world $3-5 trillion per year and affects 92% of people on the planet. Reducing air pollution could save trillions of dollars and millions of lives. In the UK alone, the economic cost of air pollution is an estimated £54 billion. Every year, over 40,000 deaths can be linked to poor air quality.  This is without including new evidence that links with health issues such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Read More

    GRAID moves closer to the pipeline front line

    • Posted by QEPrize Admin
    • 18 October 2017

    With a bold new twin-chassis design, our ground-breaking GRAID robot is on track to transform the way National Grid inspects previously unreachable sections of its network. Project Lead David Hardman shares the latest as this innovative pipe dream gets closer to reality.

    Human fascination with the power of machines has remained undimmed for decades. So it’s no surprise that our latest robotic innovation – Project GRAID – has been capturing the imagination of everyone from the national press to the gas industry, our customers and stakeholders.

    Read More

    What’s next in the world of engineering?

    • Posted by QEPrize Admin
    • 2 October 2017

    Engineering is responsible for the pulleys, wheels and bows and arrows that carried us towards civilisation. It powered the SS Great Britain across the Atlantic and raised the Eiffel Tower. Without engineering, we wouldn’t have powerful computers tucked away in pockets or a direct line to outer space. Since its inception thousands of years ago, engineering has undoubtedly shaped our world. The question we’re addressing this month, however, is what happens next?

    Read More