Harvesting Energy From Vibrating Railroad Tracks Could Save Hundreds of Millions

By: | August 17th, 2013

A Sudden Inspiration

To say energy is “ripe” is to say it is there for the taking, if we know how to “harvest it.”

Lei Zou of Stony Brook was traveling on a train when he noticed vibrations in the railcar that he surmised were being transferred to the rail itself. His first thought was it might be possible to create energy from train track vibrations and power things like train track warning lights and gates.

Development & Design

Back in his lab he developed a mechanical motion energy generator that attaches to the rail and harvests the energy from  vibrations induced by an oncoming train. Trains are very heavy and travel over rails that are placed on level but nevertheless uneven surfaces. The trains up-and-down motion creates track vibration that is captured and runs a DC motor.

The device Zou designed has a conversion efficiency of over 70% and can generate about 250 watts of power depending on the amount of vibration in the track. It is estimated that the state of New York could save more than $10 million by using this new device.

Potential for Hundreds of Millions in Energy & Emissions Savings Worldwide

The United States has more than 150,000 miles of railroad track and the device could save tens of millions of dollars and reduce emissions as well. The team is working on a similar device that would be mounted between railcars converting mechanical energy created during starts and stops into electricity.

David Russell Schilling

David enjoys writing about high technology and its potential to make life better for all who inhabit planet earth.

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