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New 3D Printing Energy Harvesting Process

TCT Magazine reports on a breakthrough made by scientists at Virginia Tech University and published in the journal Nature Materials.  Apparently, the researchers have been able to develop a new 3D printing process which will allow energy harvesting utilizing piezoelectric materials.

This 3D printing process involves 3D printing these “piezoelectric materials to be custom-designed to convert movement, impact, and stress from any direction into electrical energy. “  Piezoelectric materials “are made of brittle crystal and ceramic, and are found in a range of devices such as mobile phones and come in only a few defined shapes.”

Due to piezoelectric materials’ inherent brittleness, their potential has been limited.  But now, with this research, it is now “possible to 3D print these materials, unrestricted by shape or size, and this research could also enable intelligent infrastructures and smart materials for tactile sensing, impact monitoring, and energy harvesting.”

The team, led by Assistant Professor Xiaoyu ‘Rayne’ Zheng of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, “have developed a model enabling them to manipulate and design arbitrary piezoelectric constants, which allows the material to generate electric charge movements in response to incoming forces and vibrations via a set of 3D printable topologies.”

As Zheng explains: “you can achieve pretty much any combination of piezoelectric coefficients within a material, and use them as transducers and sensors, which are not only flexible and strong, but also respond to pressure, vibrations, and impacts via electric signals telling the location, magnitude, and direction of the impacts within any location of these materials.”

“The team demonstrated the 3D printed materials at a scale measuring fractions of the diameter of a human hair with sensitivities five times greater than flexible piezoelectric polymers. The stiffness and shape of the material can be tuned and produced as a thin sheet resembling a strip of gauze, or as a stiff block.”

Zheng concludes: “we have a team making them into wearable devices, like rings, insoles, and fitting them into a boxing glove where we will be able to record impact forces and monitor the health of the user.”  The process they developed will “significantly reduce the time and effort needed to develop practical materials.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of TCT Magazine

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