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Sparks for Your Stride: Kinetic Energy Conversion News
Green Futures, 28 Jul 10

by Julian Rollins

Whether it’s clubbers on the dance floor, soldiers on the go, or just lonely long-distance runners, energy harvested from toiling muscles is a hot topic. Until recently, prototypes have relied on high-impact movements to generate any current to speak of. But the race is on to harness power from the slightest swish of a skirt, twist of a wristwatch or shrug of a shoulder.

The US National Science Foundation has offered a $350,000 grant to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, who are developing microscopic piezoelectric fibers that could be woven into any garment. The research team claims that a million fibers spun into a shirt would generate enough current to power an iPod. So far the team, led by Professor Liwei Lin, has succeeded in converting energy from small finger movements using fibers attached to a glove (see a video demonstration of this in Smart Planet's "Future of Cloth" report here). The Pentagon is also backing the project, in the hope that it will put an end to heavy battery packs for soldiers.

Berkeley's nano-sized generators (via Azo Materials)

The technical term for the conversion process is piezoelectricity – from the Greek piezo, meaning ‘to squeeze’. Mechanical stress is applied to a material, which generates an electric field in response. Maintaining the current depends on a continuous movement to and fro, like the swing of a foot.

Microfibres aren’t the only application for the science. Researchers at Princeton and the California Institute of Technology have embedded tiny chips into silicone sheets that, they claim, could be surgically implanted in the body, harnessing movements as slight as the rise and fall of the lungs.

Yi Qi, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, holds a piece of silicone rubber imprinted with super-thin material that generates electricity when flexed. The technology could provide a source of power for mobile and medical devices. (Credit: Frank Wojciechowski via Science Daily)

Coming soon...

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Green Futures. Images and links added by Worldchanging.

Image Credits:
Image of microgenerator in shoe heel via Ville Kaajakari's website.
Bottom image of diagram of Sustainable Dance Club's floor module via Rob Aid.

For more on kinetic energy news in the Worldchanging Archives, see:

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The posts I read on your blog are most informative. Someday I am going to go through your archives and catch the ones that I haven't read. Many of the posts are brilliant! -- barbara

Posted by: FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK on 28 Jul 10

How applicable is this to wind technology?

(I'm thinking rippling sails could replace rotors that dice the local birdlife)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 29 Jul 10

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