Ultrathin piezoelectric energy harvester is cheap to produce

January 22, 2021 //By Nick Flaherty
Ultrathin piezoelectric energy harvester is cheap to produce
Researchers in Australia have developed a highly efficient piezoelectric nanomaterial for self-powered electronics, wearable technologies and even deliver pacemakers powered by heart beats. 

The flexible and printable piezoelectric material converts mechanical pressure into electrical energy and is 800 percent more efficient than other piezoelectrics based on similar non-toxic materials. The researchers at RMIT University in Australia say it can be easily fabricated through a cost-effective and commercially scalable method in a roll to roll process. 

“Until now, the best performing nano-thin piezoelectrics have been based on lead, a toxic material that is not suitable for biomedical use,” said Dr Nasir Mahmood, Research Fellow at RMIT. “Our material is based on non-toxic zinc oxide, which is also lightweight and compatible with silicon, making it easy to integrate into current electronics. It’s so efficient that all you need is a single 1.1nm layer of our material to produce all the energy required for a fully self-powering nanodevice.” 

The piezoelectric material’s potential biomedical applications include internal biosensors and self-powering biotechnologies, such as devices that convert blood pressure into a power source for pacemakers as well as smart oscillation sensors to detect faults in infrastructure like buildings and bridges, especially in earthquake-prone regions.  

Examples of energy-harvesting technologies that could be delivered by integrating the new material include smart running shoes for charging mobile phones and smart footpaths that harness energy from footsteps.

The piezoelectric material is produced using a liquid metal printing approach, pioneered at RMIT, where zinc oxide is first heated until it becomes liquid. This liquid metal, once exposed to oxygen, forms a nano-thin layer on top. The metal is then rolled over a surface, to print off nano-thin sheets of the zinc oxide “skin”. This can produce large-scale sheets of the material and is compatible with any manufacturing process, including roll-to-roll (R2R) processing. 

The researchers are now working on ultrasonic detectors for use in defence and infrastructure monitoring, as well as investigating the development of nanogenerators for harvesting mechanical energy. 

“We’re keen to explore commercial collaboration opportunities and work with relevant industries to bring future power-generating nanodevices to market,” said Mahmood.

www.rmit.edu.au

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