Exclusive interview: The truth behind the controversial new Traffic Powered Renewable Energy System


It was recently announced that the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department of the University of Illinois at Chicago has entered into an agreement with New Energy Innovations, Inc (NEI), to optimize the company’s new Traffic Powered Renewable Energy System (TPRES). The environmentally-conscious system, which uses passing traffic to create electrical energy, has been designed for deployment at intersections, toll booths, and entrance and exit ramps.

A video describing how the system works can be found here.

While the concept has received a lot of support, it has also been met with some resistance – with some critics claiming that the TPRES will increase vehicle rolling resistance and therefore increase fuel consumption.

Traffic Technology Today spoke to Ralph Black, president and CEO of NEI, to discover the thinking behind the project and find out if drivers really have anything to worry about.

Can you brielfy describe how the TPRES system works?

Energy can only be converted from one form to another, it cannot be created or destroyed. We already use solar systems to convert the sun’s energy into electrical energy and windmills to do the same with the wind. In the same way, our TPRES takes motion energy from vehicle tires and uses pistons to convert it into mechanical energy. This is then converted into electrical energy via a generator.

How does the TPRES benefit the environment?

Whenever a vehicle slows down at an intersection or stops, fuel is lost through heat. The TPRES enables us to convert that lost energy into sustainable, clean electrical energy that benefits many – the driver included – by reducing carbon emissions: a by-product of the way energy is currently most-commonly produced, as well as a by-product of your vehicle.

There is some concern that your system would be ‘stealing’ energy from the vehicles that pass over it. Is that true?

If a car is driving on the road, it is already using fuel to create motion whether there is a TPRES in the road or not. The TPRES is simply a series of air pumps embedded in the road. It only protrudes above the road surface by very small amount. It is in no way a speed bump! As previously mentioned, when a vehicle is slowing down, the TPRES captures energy that would otherwise just be lost as heat. When a vehicle is not slowing down, it will use no more energy to cross the TPRES than it would to cross over railroad tracks, a bridge divider, or any other small disruption in the road surface. The impact on passing vehicles is negligible.

Why should drivers support the TPRES concept?

Vehicles already pass over bumps in the road every day and nobody benefits from it. The TPRES enables us all to give back to the environment and the community instead of just using it and polluting it. I think that is a positive result that benefits everyone.

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About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).