The Big Question: Will piezoelectricity ever become a viable source of electricity

 
 

 

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The ever increasing demand for power has made us look out for alternate forms of renewable energy like solar power, hydro-electric power, geo-thermal power and wind power etc. One such renewable source of energy that has been gaining popularity over the past few years is the Piezoelectric Technology that generates power from the electromagnetic properties of some minerals found on earth.

The basic principle behind Piezoelectricity is simple. Certain electromagnetic materials can generate electric fields when subjected to mechanical stress. Take for instance a floor or staircase fitted with this technology to harness the pressure caused by footsteps and convert the same to electricity.

The floor or staircase would contain sensors that would absorb the pressure exerted on them by footsteps and transfer this pressure to piezo materials like ceramics or crystals. These piezo materials would in turn convert this mechanical stress to electric charges and store it. The stored energy is then used as a renewable power source.

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A prototype for the piezoelectric technology designed and developed by Innowattech has been successfully tested over a ten meter stretch of road in Israel. Accordingly, several piezoelectric generators were installed underneath the asphalt to absorb the mechanical energy generated by cars driving by. This piezoelectric generators transform the stored mechanical energy to electricity which is then converted to power. A successful test implementation saw a total power output of 2000Wh for the 10 meter strip of road. Innowattech plans to expand the test area to nearly a kilometer in the near future.

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Successful implementation of piezoelectric technology on roads can therefore yield power outputs of nearly 200KWh for every kilometer of a single line road, and nearly 1MWh for every kilometer of a four lane road (or) highway. The technology can also be used in other areas like airport runways, pedestrian walkways and even discotheques. For example, several piezoelectric sensors embedded under the dance floor can absorb the mechanical energy created by the moving bodies and convert it to enough electricity to power almost 60% of the total energy needs of the discotheque.

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Current uses of Piezoelectric Technology

As of now, piezoelectric technology is being used as high power and voltage sources, for medical imaging (in ultrasonic transducers), in acoustic emission testing and in industrial nondestructive testing. Continued efforts to harness the extreme potential of this technology in smaller, portable gadgets is underway. And it won’t come as a surprise if in a few years’ time, house floors would have piezoelectric sensors to generate electricity for the entire house.

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