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Replacing batteries may become a thing of the past, thanks to 'soft generators'

Date:
April 26, 2011
Source:
American Institute of Physics
Summary:
Battery technology hasn't kept pace with advancements in portable electronics, but the race is on to fix this. One revolutionary concept being pursued involves creating "wearable energy harvesters" capable of converting movement from humans or found in nature into battery power.

A a hand-pumped soft generator.
Credit: Image courtesy of American Institute of Physics

Battery technology hasn't kept pace with advancements in portable electronics, but the race is on to fix this. One revolutionary concept being pursued by a team of researchers in New Zealand involves creating "wearable energy harvesters" capable of converting movement from humans or found in nature into battery power.

A class of variable capacitor generators known as "dielectric elastomer generators" (DEGs) shows great potential for wearable energy harvesting. In fact, researchers at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute's Biomimetics Lab believe DEGs may enable light, soft, form-fitting, silent energy harvesters with excellent mechanical properties that match human muscle. They describe their findings in the American Institute of Physics' journal Applied Physics Letters.

"Imagine soft generators that produce energy by flexing and stretching as they ride ocean waves or sway in the breeze like a tree," says Thomas McKay, a Ph.D. candidate working on soft generator research at the Biomimetics Lab. "We've developed a low-cost power generator with an unprecedented combination of softness, flexibility, and low mass. These characteristics provide an opportunity to harvest energy from environmental sources with much greater simplicity than previously possible."

Dielectric elastomers, often referred to as artificial muscles, are stretchy materials that are capable of producing energy when deformed. In the past, artificial muscle generators required bulky, rigid, and expensive external electronics.

"Our team eliminated the need for this external circuitry by integrating flexible electronics -- dielectric elastomer switches -- directly onto the artificial muscles themselves. One of the most exciting features of the generator is that it's so simple; it simply consists of rubber membranes and carbon grease mounted in a frame," McKay explains.

McKay and his colleagues at the Biomimetics Lab are working to create soft dexterous machines that comfortably interface with living creatures and nature in general. The soft generator is another step toward fully soft devices; it could potentially be unnoticeably incorporated into clothing and harvest electricity from human movement. When this happens, worrying about the battery powering your cell phone or other portable electronics dying on you will become a thing of the past. And as an added bonus, this should help keep batteries out of landfills.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Institute of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas G. McKay, Benjamin M. O’Brien, Emilio P. Calius, Iain A. Anderson. Soft generators using dielectric elastomers. Applied Physics Letters, 2011; 98 (14): 142903 DOI: 10.1063/1.3572338

Cite This Page:

American Institute of Physics. "Replacing batteries may become a thing of the past, thanks to 'soft generators'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110406123025.htm>.
American Institute of Physics. (2011, April 26). Replacing batteries may become a thing of the past, thanks to 'soft generators'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110406123025.htm
American Institute of Physics. "Replacing batteries may become a thing of the past, thanks to 'soft generators'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110406123025.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

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