Scientists at the University of Bolton in the U.K. have come up with a new fiber that can harvest energy from the wind, rain, sun, and even body movements. The lightweight, flexible material could be used to make self-charging casings for laptops, phones, and other portable devices, and it could lend itself to many other uses from clothes to camping gear. The researchers have embarked on a three-year project to develop and commercialize the new fiber with researchers in China.
A New Piezoelectric Fiber
Piezoelectricity refers to a charge that is created when certain crystalline structures are subjected to stress or pressure. Micro scale piezoelectric devices can be used to harvest energy from relatively small vibrations. On a macro scale, many surfaces that are subjected to variable pressure – from highways and train station platforms to dance floors – can generate piezoelectric energy. One limiting factor has been the rigidity of piezoelectric devices, but the Bolton scientists have developed a way to weave piezoelectric capability into a flexible structure that lends itself to a wider variety of uses.
Piezoelectricity Goes Mainstream
Piezoelectricity may sound somewhat exotic right now, but it is just steps away from the mainstream: Energy Harvesting Journal reports that the U.S. military is developing a real-time remote sensor system that run on piezoelectric technology. Along with military applications, wireless energy-scavenging sensors can be used to monitor the reliability of bridges and other infrastructure, and their use could become widespread in many other areas.
Solar-Piezoelectric Hybrid Fiber
With piezoelectric capability, the researchers claim that the new fiber can harvest energy from wind and rain, and from human-derived activity such as carrying a laptop in its case. You could almost hear them thinking “Hmmm…why not!” when they decided to develop solar-capable version of the fiber, too. They also envision using the fiber to construct a stationary tree-like, all-weather energy harvesting structure. As a next step, they are beginning to test the fiber for its potential to collect low-speed ocean tidal energy, too.
Image: Laundry by mysza831 on flickr.com.