Assistant Professor Shashank Priya and his associates at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) are testing various ways to use piezoelectric materials and wind or vibrations to create inexpensive electricity. In a special arrangement called a bimorph transducer, the piezoelectric layers are separated by a nonconductive material to form a sandwich structure. Only minor flexing needs to occur for a charge to be generated by the bimorph, producing electricity.
Priya and other researchers from the Materials Science and Engineering Program at UTA have created two versions of inexpensive generators using wind power. As wind turns a propeller, a cam on the propeller shaft causes flexing in a series of bimorphs that are arranged in circular or stacked patterns. The researchers have created output power of 5 mW to 50 mW, using wind flow of 5 mph to 10 mph. from their prototypes that cost less than $30.
Most research in this area—small-scale energy-on-demand—has centered on expensive generators such as fuel cells and photoelectric or thermoelectric devices. Potential uses of the wind-powered generators include powering remote sensing and communications devices. Priya foresees piezoelectric bimorphs being used to power a variety of small devices, including insulin pumps powered by the vibrations of a beating human heart, or portable radios and CD players powered by the vibrations caused by walking, running or riding a bicycle. For more information, visit mse.uta.edu/priya.html.