Tiny piezoelectric devices convert motion into electricity

November 10 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 3

What happened?
Researchers at Georgia Tech University have developed a new type of small-scale electric power generator able to produce alternating current (AC) through the repeated stretching and releasing of zinc oxide wires held with in a flexible plastic substrate that can be incorporated into almost any material.

This new type of piezoelectric generator can produce up to 45 millivolts by converting nearly seven percent of the mechanical energy applied directly to the zinc oxide wires into electricity. A complex array of these devices could be used to charge sensors or low power embedded MEMS devices.

Why is this important to the future?
Micro and nano-scale power systems are going to be in high demand in a future increasingly dependent on sensors and microelectronics. Piezoelectric generators could become a low cost, more durable alternative to miniaturized batteries and fuel cells used to power the billions of sensors, smart tags, and MEMS devices expected to hit the marketplace over the next two decades.

“The flexible charge pump offers yet another option for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy,” said Professor Zhong Lin Wang of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “This adds to our family of very small-scale generators able to power devices used in medical sensing, environmental monitoring, defense technology and personal electronics.”

What to watch

Low cost, low power sensors and micro-devices could redefine life in the next fifty years, in the same way that high end computer processors shaped life over the past fifty years. Last week we highlighted the vision of a ‘Smart Planet’ by IBM CEO Sam Palmisano. If manufacturing techniques can evolve then piezoelectric arrays could help realize this vision of abundant sensors embedded in everyday objects.

Georgia Tech Press Release

Reported in November 9, 2008 journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The research has been supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Emory-Georgia Tech Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence.

Also see previous work by Wang’s research team

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