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Speed Bumps Generate Electricity--and Cash

Is there money and green energy in speed bumps? That's the premise of MotionPower, a project of Maryland-based New Energy Technologies, which on Monday will launch a second field trial of an ingenious device that converts cars' kinetic energy to electricity.

The premise is pretty simple. Some 250 million registered vehicles travel six billion miles a day on American roads, and they could be giving some of their energy back. According to Meetesh Patel, CEO of New Energy, when cars or trucks drive over what appears to be a speed bump they push down on several actuators connected to a generator. The device makes sense in places where cars are already slowing down, such as drive-in banks and fast-food places, as well as hotel driveways and toll plazas.

Here's some video showing what it looks like on the road: The first field test of MotionPower's speed bumps was at a Burger King in Hillside, New Jersey over the Labor Day Weekend. "If the MotionPower device does what we think it will do, we'd be interested in installing it at all our locations," said Drew Paterno, owner of the Burger King franchise.

There's a second version of the technology for heavy trucks.

Patel estimated that each MotionPower speed bump would cost $1,500 to $2,000 and earn back its cost in two to three years. A business could use it to offset electricity costs, or sell back energy to the grid through the net metering laws in place in many states. For the tests, the ramps are merely lighting a bulb to let consumers see the system in action, but a heavily trafficked site could generate significant useful electricity.

The Burger King test yielded data that New Energy will use to reduce the vertical of the device, and turn it from a ramp-like structure to something more resembling a conventional speed bump. The second test, on Columbus Day only, will be at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C. which, according to spokeswoman Liliana Baldassari, prides itself on a variety of green accomplishments.

New Energy also offers a SolarWindow technology that allows transparent windows to generate electricity with an ultra-thin solar film. The company says its film is a tenth the thickness of conventional alternatives, and its cells are the world's smallest.

The Motion Power devices will be commercialized in one to two years, Patel said.