Mind & Matter


Power-harnessing Rubber Films

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Power-generating rubber film. Photo by Frank Wojciechowski.


Concerns about peak oil and future fossil fuel shortages have inspired investment in a wide range of renewable energy technologies, including the obvious candidates of solar, wind, and geothermal power. Recently, scientists have focused with increased intensity on another source of power: the human body.

Princeton University researchers have developed a new power-generating film made up of silicone rubber and piezoelectric material. The film is capable of translating bodily movements such as walking, running, and even breathing into electricity. Although piezoelectric technology has been investigated for such applications before, this approach to combine the delicate material with rubber may lead to more reliable and sustainable results.

Moreover, this particular ceramic film is made of lead zirconate titanate (PZT), which has a conversion rate of 80 percent. According to researcher Michael McAlpine, “PZT is 100 times more efficient than quartz, another piezoelectric material. ... You don't generate that much power from walking or breathing, so you want to harness it as efficiently as possible." Perhaps this technology will allow my endlessly energetic kids to power their own electronic devices.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.