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London summer games CIO deploys piezoelectricity

TechTarget is a believer in fostering new talent in journalism. Welcome Miki Onwudinjo to the family as our new editorial assistant. 

CIOs are leaders in determining the direction of a business. When the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) aimed to produce a zero-carbon, zero-waste event using energy-efficient technology, Gerry Pennell, CIO of the London summer games, used his IT expertise to help make the London summer games the greenest games ever.

Pennell deployed a combination of green IT technologies including piezoelectricity. Piezoelectricity occurs when pressure is applied to an object — a negative charge is produced on one side and a positive charge is produced on the other. Once pressure is relieved, electrical currents flow. Twelve 17.7″ X 23.6″ energy floor tiles lead visitors to Olympic Park. The kinetic energy harvested from over 12 million foot impressions will illuminate central LED floodlights 24 hours a day. This produces 2.1 watts of electricity per hour. The extra renewable energy is then stored in a lithium polymer battery for up to three days. It’s also sent via transmitter to power local street lights, displays and other off-grid applications.

On the surface, it sounds like one of those inventions that seems so simple in a “why didn’t I think of that?” kind of way. If someone told me I could step on a piece of rubber and generate light for three days, I never would have believed them. Now just imagine if all sidewalks, paths, corridors and floor spaces were constructed of piezoelectric tiles. This trending technology could be the key to helping CIOs run an energy-efficient and sustainable business. For example, the energy created from swivel chairs constantly rolling across piezoelectric tiles could operate low-power applications in offices. On a grand scale, a CIO could run an entire energy-savings system from the foot traffic of company employees.

These special rubber piezoelectric tiles are the handiwork of young London brainiac Laurence Kemball-Cook’s Pavegen Systems. The tiles are a great low-carbon solution. They are waterproof, last up to five years and are made from recycled trunk tires and some marine grade steel.

Kemball-Cook has installed his tiles as a dance floor at the music festival Bestival in Isle of Wright, England. Currently, he has 30 permanent installations in schools, shopping malls, city squares and now the 2012 London summer games. However, the piezoelectric device’s hybrid formula is a secret. Even the price per tile is kept a mystery. Kemball-Cook eventually wants to make his tiles practical for the real world and affordable to smaller markets.

Piezoelectricity isn’t a new concept.  The East Japan Railway Company in Japan experimented with piezoelectric flooring since 2006 at its main station. In 2010, the city of Toulouse, France, installed piezoelectric tiles in sidewalks to generate its street lamps. Israeli company Innowattech tested piezoelectricity on railroad tracks and highways.

While many of these examples come from organizations with deep pockets, smaller companies are employing piezoelectric technology today. For instance, some dance clubs capture the energy on a dance floor and use it to power LED lights.

CIOs drive an organization’s performance and end results, so it’s mission-critical for CIOs to be as engaged as possible with all aspects of the company, including the human element. Piezoelectricity might just be the green way for CIOs to involve employees in IT.

For instance, in my own work life, I’m in my own mindset at my desk. I sometimes forget that I work alongside a durable IT team. With piezoelectric flooring, I might feel more included in my company and the behind-the-scenes operations. There would no longer be an invisible shield between employees and the IT team. Transmitters connected to piezoelectric floor tiles could charge our office printers and power ceiling lights. Knowing that just walking from my desk to the break room could generate electricity would bring all the departments together. And, with that, midmarket CIOs could be one step closer to not only a more tightly knit company, but a smaller carbon footprint.

Miki Onwudinjo is a TechTarget editorial assistant and a journalism student at Northeastern University in Boston.

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