We are currently living in an age of finite resources. We as a planet are completely dependent on something that will one day run out. Never before has the human race faced such a problem as the one we do today. It’s becoming more and more apparent, day by day, that we need to find new and inventive ways to save us from the inevitable peak that will plummet us all down at an alarming speed. That is if we don’t use our brains! Even if the whole planet was to double the amount renewable energy available, there would still be a shortage of clean electricity available. Its hard to believe, I know. This is why it is so important to grasp every opportunity we can. One such solution is the discovery is the use piezoelectricity— this is the extraction of charge that is gathered within solid materials like crystal, and ceramic in response to strain. This has most recently become a very popular subject for entrepreneurs and scientists alike.
On planet earth, we are currently aware of a number of materials that are piezoelectric, including the likes of topaz, quartz, cane sugar, and tourmaline. These materials are able to gather a charge, or energy inside which can later be released when pressure is applied. Piezoelectric are already most commonly used for a variety of applications such as Quartz clocks which rely on piezoelectricity for power, as do many others. These materials can be put to use for very simple uses on things like sensors, lighters, and actuators. Having said all that. These methods are outdated. Nowadays, Scientists have much more interesting ideas for piezoelectric plans in mind.
Most recently piezoelectricity has been put to use in the most unique of ways that could potential pave the way for the future; Literally. What seems to be the most efficient use of this technology, is its use on roads and walkways, and this all started in 2008 with a dance floor in the Netherlands at a place called Club Watt. This has since been dubbed the world’s first sustainable dance club. This club has installed piezoelectric materials in its dance floor to turn the dancers moves, into electricity that is used to manipulate the colour of the floor’s surface.
After the revelation at Club Watt, these floors started appearing. Soon after, a Tokyo railway station installed a piezoelectric floor that is able to transfer kinetic energy in to 1,400 kW of energy per day; this is more than enough to power ticket gates and displays. Toulouse, in France, recently became the first city in the world to put pressure-sensitive piezoelectric modules on walkways which in turn is able to generate enough energy to power street lamps and small signs. The United Kingdom also. Bus stops in London have been fitted with power-generating tiles to provide lighting for bus stops and pedestrian crossings.
Piezoelectrics are very quickly becoming a simple solution, to very big problems. In 2009, a British supermarket installed kinetic road plates that are able to collect energy from car driving over them. The science is almost to simple. The road plates are pushed down by vehicle weight, which creates a rocking motion that then turns generators. The amazing thing is that this energy is then used to power the supermarket’s checkout lines. In other parts of the world like Israel, a company is installing strips of asphalt embedded with piezoelectric materials. According to the company, the generators could potentially produce 1 MWh of electricity from an average four lane highway, in other words this would be just enough energy to power 2,500 homes.
It doesn’t stop there. This technology is becoming more and more efficient by the day. and just keeps getting better. Researchers at Princeton University have been able to combine nano ribbons of lead zirconate titanate silicone and to create what is referred to as PZT, an ultra-efficient piezoelectric material that can potentially convert more than 80 percent of mechanical energy into electricity. PZT has been proven to be almost 100 times more efficient than quartz. In fact, it’s so efficient, that the material could be used to capture even the tiniest amount of energy like the minute vibrations found in items like shoes and clothing. This in theory could lead to thing like clothes that charge your MP3 while your running.
Although most things we have talked about haven’t quite taken off yet. At least we know there’s hope. We know have a little more incite to what the world might look like in the future. We can safely say, that with the right minds, and the ability to think outside the box, there is always a solution.
Article by Joel Whitcher of Floormats UK.