New material converts mechanical vibrations into electricity for clean energy

Engineers have developed a revolutionary material that can transform everyday mechanical vibrations into electricity, offering a solution to the growing demand for clean energy. The new technology, created by researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto over a decade, is compact, eco-friendly, cost-effective, and reliable, making it perfect for powering anything from medical implants to spacecraft.

The innovative generating system is the first of its kind and utilizes the piezoelectric effect, generating an electrical current by applying pressure to an appropriate substance, such as mechanical vibrations. While this effect has been known since 1880 and has been used in various technologies like sonar and ultrasound imaging, it has been limited to a handful of piezoelectric materials such as quartz and Rochelle salts. These materials have limited electricity generating capacity and often contain lead, which is harmful to the environment and human health.

The breakthrough system developed by the researchers tackles these issues by using a new piezoelectric material with significantly higher electricity-generating capacity and without any hazardous materials. According to Asif Khan, a Waterloo researcher and co-author of the study, this innovation will have a significant impact on society and the economy by reducing dependence on non-renewable power sources. The need for such energy-generating materials is more pressing now than ever before in history.

The research team began by growing a large, single crystal of edabco copper chloride, a molecular metal-halide compound, utilizing the Jahn-Teller effect. This well-known chemistry concept involves spontaneous geometrical distortion of a crystal field. They used this highly piezoelectric material to create nanogenerators with a record-breaking power density. These generators can harvest tiny mechanical vibrations from any dynamic circumstance, from human motion to automotive vehicles. The process does not require lead or non-renewable energy.

The nanogenerator is only 2.5 centimeters square and about as thick as a business card, making it incredibly compact and versatile. It has the potential to power sensors in a wide range of electronic devices, including those needed for the Internet of Things. The IoT is a growing global network of objects embedded with sensors and software that can connect and exchange data with other devices.

According to Dr. Dayan Ban, a researcher at the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, the nanogenerator could power sensory monitoring systems in aircraft, or even keep battery-free pacemakers running using a person's heartbeat. Ban, who is also a professor of electrical and computer engineering, said that their new material has achieved record-breaking performance and represents a new path forward in this field.

The study, which showcases the team's findings, is available in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of Waterloo

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