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Clean Power A new micro-scaled piezoelectric device can harvest energy from vibrating surfaces and machines

Published on December 30th, 2009 | by Tina Casey

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New Micro-Machine Harvests Energy from Vibrations

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December 30th, 2009 by  

A new micro-scaled piezoelectric device can harvest energy from vibrating surfaces and machinesHighways, train stations, and even dance floors: the world is full of vibrating surfaces that could yield a rich trove of clean, sustainable energy.  It’s called piezoelectric energy, formed by the conversion of mechanical strain into electrical current.  Now a team of researchers in Europe has developed a micro-scaled piezoelectric device that could harvest energy from machinery as well as from infrastructure and buildings.

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The tiny devices are ideal for use in powering remote sensing equipment, for example to monitor bridges or machines for early signs of deterioration. In that case they could play a key role in more energy efficient maintenance for wind turbines and other renewable energy infrastructure, while lowering human risk.

Piezoelectric Sensors and Energy Efficient Maintenance

Wind turbines present some pretty challenging maintenance and repair issues.  Aside from the element of human risk in climbing the turbines, sending out teams and inspection equipment to remote locations (including offshore locations) can burn through a lot of energy.  An onsite, realtime, self-sustaining piezoelectric monitoring device could save unnecessary trips while identifying small problems long before they develop into big ones.

A Lead-Free Piezoelectric Device

The new device was developed by a partnership that included the European nanotechnology research institute IMEC and Holst Centre, an independent research institute specializing in wireless technology.  About the size of a die, the multi-layered device was made with MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technologies that permitted the partners to engineer a durable, wafer-scale package.  One important advantage of the new device is its use of aluminum nitride, rather than the lead-based material used in conventional piezoelectric devices (lead is a known health hazard).  Aluminum nitride is also easier to process.  With at least one other research team developing a lead alternative, it could only be a matter of time before lead-free piezoelectric devices become a commonplace feature in infrastructure, factories, buildings, and vehicles.

Image: Energy vibrations by orosama on flickr.com.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • JJ

    Of course they are great for extracting uWs of power from vibrations to power remote sensors, and that is all they are good for, and most people will never see them.

    However “the world is full of vibrating surfaces that could yield a rich trove of clean, sustainable energy” is utter poppycock. If there is a shaking machine to extract energy from, there is almost certainly an AC outlet there too.

    Trying to extract a “rich trove of clean” energy from moving vehicles on a highway surface will add resistance to those vehicles if any noticeable power were extracted. Vehicles would waste more power overcoming that extra resistance than was gained from the device.

  • JJ

    Of course they are great for extracting uWs of power from vibrations to power remote sensors, and that is all they are good for, and most people will never see them.

    However “the world is full of vibrating surfaces that could yield a rich trove of clean, sustainable energy” is utter poppycock. If there is a shaking machine to extract energy from, there is almost certainly an AC outlet there too.

    Trying to extract a “rich trove of clean” energy from moving vehicles on a highway surface will add resistance to those vehicles if any noticeable power were extracted. Vehicles would waste more power overcoming that extra resistance than was gained from the device.

  • JJ

    Of course they are great for extracting uWs of power from vibrations to power remote sensors, and that is all they are good for, and most people will never see them.

    However “the world is full of vibrating surfaces that could yield a rich trove of clean, sustainable energy” is utter poppycock. If there is a shaking machine to extract energy from, there is almost certainly an AC outlet there too.

    Trying to extract a “rich trove of clean” energy from moving vehicles on a highway surface will add resistance to those vehicles if any noticeable power were extracted. Vehicles would waste more power overcoming that extra resistance than was gained from the device.

  • brian

    I envisioned such a system which I named Harmonic Convergence System utilizing solar light focused through fiber optics radiating onto a bi-colored spinner creating sound vibrations in the early 1990s. It is good to see realization coming

  • brian

    I envisioned such a system which I named Harmonic Convergence System utilizing solar light focused through fiber optics radiating onto a bi-colored spinner creating sound vibrations in the early 1990s. It is good to see realization coming

  • brian

    I envisioned such a system which I named Harmonic Convergence System utilizing solar light focused through fiber optics radiating onto a bi-colored spinner creating sound vibrations in the early 1990s. It is good to see realization coming

  • brian

    I envisioned such a system which I named Harmonic Convergence System utilizing solar light focused through fiber optics radiating onto a bi-colored spinner creating sound vibrations in the early 1990s. It is good to see realization coming

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    This is such an interesting concept I absolutely love it!

  • http://www.ecigarettesinc.com e cig

    This is such an interesting concept I absolutely love it!

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