Kinetic energy is the propelling force behind the movement of any object or living thing. When you walk, kick a ball or knock something off a table, that’s kinetic energy.
We don’t talk about it much. Its lack of PR hides great potential to release us from our reliance on fossil fuels. If harnessed in the right way, kinetic energy can be a crucial source of clean energy and weapon in the fight against climate change.
The kinetic revolution has already begun
The 67 countries and eight US states working towards carbon net neutral targets need to identify and implement cleaner energy solutions as soon as possible. As set out by the World Economic Forum in 2017, many countries are also working to reduce their numbers of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. UK and Norway look likely to achieve their target years sooner. Can kinetic energy help? It already does.
As of 2020, every London Uber driver must use a fully electric or hybrid car. Most hybrid cars are powered in part by kinetic energy. When the driver uses the breaks, the car stores the kinetic energy produced in its battery, then reuses it to propel the car forward.
This technology doesn’t come cheap. At home, you may not be able to afford a hybrid or electric car, but for business, cleaner vehicle options are fast gaining popularity. It’s not just reduced running costs – lower noise, vibration and exhaust mean better health and safety for employees.
There are many more ways to use kinetic energy in daily life. Take charging devices. There are already phone chargers that use a hand crank, others by your running shoes’ movement while you jog. There are many more kinetic energy products now available, and a wider variety soon to hit the market.
Businesses wanting to be net carbon neutral need to make the right choice in when and where they use kinetic technology. The obvious place to start is switching to self-charging hybrids for fleet cars, but the options are getting more interesting by the day.
One of my favorites is the self-charging floor, powering street lighting in part of Las Vegas’s ‘the strip.’ One company, Energy Floors, is hoping to apply the kinetic energy floor in offices and other commercial premises.
Storing renewable energy has always been a tough problem. Kinetic energy has a solution there too. Flywheel, or mechanical, batteries store energy by way of a constantly accelerating and decelerating rotor. They’re made mostly from easily recycled steel, so don’t use the environmentally damaging ingredients in lead or lithium-ion batteries, and are much more hard-wearing.
How mechanical batteries work and how they can be used
Start-ups get movement energy moving
Some start-ups have come up with unique ways to use kinetic energy. Kitemill is looking at using kites to generate electricity. Flying high in the sky, they can take advantage of more powerful and consistent wind speeds. They estimate the technology could generate renewable energy for around half the cost of conventional wind power.
Kite power uses a kite, a tether and a ground-based generator.
American Wind has invented the world’s smallest wind turbine, “slightly smaller than a standard basketball.” Portable and designed for commercial settings, it generates more energy, more quickly than other renewable solutions of the same size, such as solar panels.
Constructis have invented a sort of energy-harvesting speed bump. It can be embedded in road surfaces and collect kinetic energy from every vehicle that drives over it. Even at slow speeds, the Roadway Energy X platform makes every car pass into a kilowatt of energy.
As consumers and as part of the organizations we work for, we have a responsibility to change how we use energy. We need to move to greener energy solutions fast. This is only the start of the kinetic energy road. When we get there, it will be a bright future.