An international research group has engineered a new energy-generating device by combining piezoelectric composites with carbon fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP), a commonly used material that is both light and strong. The new device transforms vibrations from the surrounding environment into electricity, providing an efficient and reliable means for creating self-powered sensors.
‘Everyday items, from fridges to street lamps, are connected to the internet as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), and many of them are equipped with sensors that collect data,’ said Fumio Narita, a professor at Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Environmental Studies. ‘But these IoT devices need power to function, which is challenging if they are in remote places, or if there are lots of them.’
The sun’s rays, heat and vibration can all generate electrical power. Vibrational energy can be utilised thanks to piezoelectric materials’ ability to generate electricity when physically stressed. Meanwhile, CFRP lends itself to applications in the aerospace and automotive industries, and sports and medical equipment thanks to its durability and light weight.
‘We pondered whether a piezoelectric vibration energy harvester (PVEH), harnessing the robustness of CFRP together with a piezoelectric composite, could be a more efficient and durable means of harvesting energy,’ said Narita.
The group fabricated the device using a combination of CFRP and potassium sodium niobate (KNN) nanoparticles mixed with epoxy resin. The CFRP served as both an electrode and a reinforcement substrate.
The so-called C-PVEH device lived up to its expectations. Tests and simulations revealed that it could maintain high performance even after being bent more than 100,000 times. It proved capable of storing the generated electricity and powering LED lights. Additionally, it outperformed other KNN-based polymer composites in terms of energy output density.
The C-PVEH will help propel the development of self-powered IoT sensors, leading to more energy-efficient IoT devices.
Narita and his colleagues are also excited about the technological advancements of their breakthrough. ‘As well as the societal benefits of our C-PVEH device, we are thrilled with the contributions we have made to the field of energy harvesting and sensor technology. The blend of excellent energy output density and high resilience can guide future research into other composite materials for diverse applications.’
The research has been published in Nano Energy.