State wants to use crystals and traffic jams to generate renewable energy

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Los Angeles drivers spend up to 81 hours each year sitting in traffic, and as a state, California has plenty of gridlock to go around. Consequently, state officials are trying to make the best of a bad situation and turn some of those slowdowns into a source of renewable energy.

As the Associated Press reports (via, the California Energy Commission will set aside $2 million for a study on whether the state’s roads can be engineered to harness untapped energy from motor vehicles with the addition of piezoelectric crystals.

According to a 2014 report analyzing the feasibility of the project, these crystals generate electricity when stress is applied—stress that could come from cars passing over them or from the vibrations of vehicles idling in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

The idea was first proposed by Assemblyman Mike Gatto in 2011, apparently inspired by a similar project underway in Israel at the time. Unfortunately, as the AP reports, the project eventually flopped as costs got out of hand. Informed by the AP of this development, Gatto said, “Hearing these details for the first time—obviously, they’re not heartening.”

Still, Gatto is hopeful the idea will yield better results in California. A 2014 report estimates the system could produce energy at a cost of between eight and 18 cents per kilowatt hour. In Sacramento, utility costs run at almost 15 cents per kilowatt hour.

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