Here's an idea for anyone who's ever felt the traffic blow by a busy highway: why not capture the wind created by the cars and turn it into energy? That's the thought behind two new alternative-energy projects. Austin, Texas, architect Mark Oberholzer wants to install small high-speed turbines in the barriers that separate lanes of traffic. He estimates that cars moving at 60 miles per hour could push 120mph winds past the turbines. Recent Arizona State University graduate Joe De Le Ree developed a similar plan using overhead turbines to be built into overpasses. Currently both entrepreneurs are seeking funding to build prototypes.
Like other alternative-energy brainstorms, the economics aren't wildly compelling. De Le Ree figures that freeway wind could allow each turbine to generate about 9,600 kilowatt-hours a year, worth just under $800 at current prices—a low return on the estimated $48,000 cost of each overhead turbine.
But higher traditional-energy costs and the desire to create electricity in an urban environment could make these projects viable someday. And who knows? Maybe they could get corporate sponsors to set up turbines at NASCAR tracks, where the 200mph race cars could really get the lights burning bright.