Visitors to aerospace engineer Haim Abramovich’s office at the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, once asked if they could run a freight train over his latest invention. Abramovich didn’t blink: The visitors were from Israel’s National Road Company, and they wanted to know whether his piezoelectric material—which he developed to warp aerodynamic surfaces at the command of an electric current—would instead generate power if embedded beneath rumbling roads and rails.
Abramovich, who had just launched start-up Innowattech to develop wearable microgenerators for powering mobile devices, was convinced the road and track were better homes for his technology. So the company “turned around 180 degrees,” he recalls, and figured out how to embed piezoelectric material beneath a road. Now, along with several other inventive start-ups, Innowattech is poised to harvest some of the spare kinetic energy of the world’s moving vehicles—call it the kinetic surplus.