Innovative device turns railway track vibrations into clean electricity

Scientists over the globe are trying hard to generate usable electricity from any possible source of energy including heat and vibrations. However, since mechanical energy is often irregular and oscillatory, tapping into this form of energy is difficult and not to mention inefficient too. Scientists at New York’s Stony Brook University have developed a new patent-pending device that can convert the vibrations of a locomotive moving on a stretch of track into electricity, which can then be used to power signal lights and other railway infrastructure.

The device, dubbed the Mechanical Motion Rectifier based Railroad Energy Harvester, converts the erratic vibrations into a unidirectional rotational motion that is then converted to electricity in an efficient way. The researchers state that the US has the longest rail tracks in the world and most of them are in remote areas where it is costly to power the track-side electrical infrastructure such as signal lights and sensors. The device, on the other hand, produces about 200W of power from track-induced vibrations using two one-way clutches. Bench testing of the prototype device resulted in a mechanical efficiency of between 55 and 72 percent.

The team estimates that the implementation of the device could save more than $10 million in trackside power supply, while reducing CO2 emissions by 3000 tons a year. If 10,000 units of the 200W harvesters are placed in the New York State alone, the energy benefits will be about 400,000W and save about half a million US dollars.

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