Monday, January 20, 2014

Piezoelectric Applications

Piezoelectricity is a dynamic source of energy production that uses mechanical force to generate electrical charge in a crystalline substance. That could be anything from quartz to the liquid crystals in our blood and interstatial fluid. Piezoelectricity is an energy source that surrounds us in abundance just waiting for us to apply it. We as a culture have become dependent on oil as our primary means of energy production, oil is a dirty, unrenewable resource and with the technological advancements that we are making we are going to need a new source of energy soon.

Oil has never been the optimal source of fuel in our world, the only reson it became so prominent is because of the money to be made. Money is always made in abundance when based around scarcity. Oil for example is NOT a renewable resource, there is a distinct scarcity of it on our planet. As it has become depended upon by us as a primary source of energy it is obviously quite the commodity. Now that it has become so scarce on our planet we are all suffering. Not all of us have the money to sustain this dependence on oil, and this MUST be addressed. It is high time to upgrade. The energy and technology to harvest it are EVERYWHERE, it is now and always has been up to us to apply it.


The Photovoltaic, Piezoelectric Automobile
Car that uses solar and piezoelectric energy

At the Pilkington Vehicle Design Awards 2010 held earlier this year, David Seesing, from Cologne in Germany, was awarded the prize for Best Use of Glazing with his 'Symbiosis' concept car that connects architecture and transportation in a sustainable design. Seesing said the self sufficient system has the ethical intent of sustainable design's twofold objectives: the well being of the inhabitant, and the conservation of the environment.

Land Rover Principal Designer Earl Beckles, who was on the judging panel said of Seesing and his winning project: "(David) had a very innovative approach to tackling environmental issues and sustainability. He created a vehicle that used double glazing as a conduit to allow air to flow through to generate and store energy in the vehicle. It interfaced with a house design structure as well, and the two worked hand-in-hand to regenerate energy and use it more efficiently and effectively."

Symbiosis - image source David Seesing

The innovative design of the Symbiosis consists of a car frame made from aluminum and consolidated with carbon nano-tubes to increase the heat and electrical conductivity of the material. The frames are printed with piezoelectric crystals which generate electricity from the air flow. The car's internal capsule contains a transparent shell which is embedded with photovoltaic cells to collect solar energy and the Symbiosis draws power from four electric motors. This has some resonance with the research of Fiat Central Research in Italy and the Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems at Virginiatech CEHMS but most of the ideas are novel.


Crowd Harvesting

Juscyzk and Graham

Two graduate students at MIT's School of Architecture and Planning want to harvest the energy of human movement in urban settings, like commuters in a train station or fans at a concert.

The so-called "Crowd Farm," as envisioned by James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk, both M.Arch candidates, would turn the mechanical energy of people walking or jumping into a source of electricity. Their proposal took first place in the Japan-based Holcim Foundation's Sustainable Construction competition this year.

A Crowd Farm in Boston's South Station railway terminal would work like this: A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps would be installed beneath the station's main lobby. The slippage of the blocks against one another as people walked would generate power through the principle of the dynamo, a device that converts the energy of motion into that of an electric current.

The electric current generated by the Crowd Farm could then be used for educational purposes, such as lighting up a sign about energy. "We want people to understand the direct relationship between their movement and the energy produced," says Jusczyk.

The Crowd Farm is not intended for home use. According to Graham and Jusczyk, a single human step can only power two 60W light bulbs for one flickering second. But get a crowd in motion, multiply that single step by 28,527 steps, for example, and the result is enough energy to power a moving train for one second.Â

And while the farm is an urban vision, the dynamo-floor principle can also be applied to capturing energy at places like rock concerts, too. "Greater movement of people could make the music louder," suggests Jusczyk.

The students' test case, displayed at the Venice Biennale and in a train station in Torino, Italy, was a prototype stool that exploits the passive act of sitting to generate power. The weight of the body on the seat causes a flywheel to spin, which powers a dynamo that, in turn, lights four LEDs.

"People tended to be delighted by sitting on the stool and would get up and down repeatedly," recalls Graham.

Other people have developed piezo-electric (mechanical-to-electrical) surfaces in the past, but the Crowd Farm has the potential to redefine urban space by adding a sense of fluidity and encouraging people to activate spaces with their movement.

"Our intention was to think of it not as a high-tech mat that would be laid down somewhere, but to really integrate it into a new sort of building system," Graham says.

The Crowd Farm floor is composed of standard parts that are easily replicated but it is expensive to produce at this stage, they said. "Only through experimentation - which can be expensive - do technologies become practical," Graham says.

Graham and Jusczyk rely on bicycles, rather than trains or buses, for their commute to MIT. But, both students were impressed enough by recent experiences in large crowds - for Graham, the 2003 New York City blackout; for Jusczyk, Boston's World Cup celebration in City Hall Plaza - to start work on the Farm. The students were inspired as well by an "ingenious little device by Thomas Edison. When visitors came to his house, they passed through a turnstile that pumped water into his holding tank," says Graham. In addition, they were guided by their advisor, Associate Professor J. Meejin Yoon, who helped them take their proposal from the power-stool to the Crowd Farm.


As we can see, piezoelectricity is an effective, reliable, applicable, diverse form of energy production. It is a natural process that has always existed and always will, the literal apex of sustainable. The most effectual forms of technology and design are always based upon natural processes and this is no exception. Now that we know that there are more effective sources of energy and that we CAN use them NOW, do we want to?

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