Turning good vibrations into energy

Hi all, I have not had time to post as many articles as I want to as I am travelling. I am in the UK at Cambridge where I am working with a technology startup on a joint research project and attending a lecture at the university.I will post as often I can.

The following is a press release from Ohio State University

New tools for harvesting wind energy may soon look less like giant windmills and more like tiny leafless trees.

HarneA project at The Ohio State University is testing whether high-tech objects that look a bit like artificial trees can generate renewable power when they are shaken by the wind–or by the sway of a tall building, traffic on a bridge or even seismic activity.

In a recent issue of the Journal of Sound and Vibration, researchers report that they’ve uncovered something new about the vibrations that pass through tree-shaped objects when they are shaken.

Specifically, they’ve demonstrated that tree-like structures made with electromechanical materials can convert random forces–such as winds or footfalls on a bridge–into strong structural vibrations that are ideal for generating electricity.

The idea may conjure images of fields full of mechanical trees swaying in the breeze. But the technology may prove most valuable when applied on a small scale, in situations where other renewable energy sources such as solar are not an option, said project leader Ryan Harne, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State, and director of the Laboratory of Sound and Vibration Research.

The “trees” themselves would be very simple structures: think of a trunk with a few branches–no leaves required.

Early applications would include powering the sensors that monitor the structural integrity and health of civil infrastructure, such as buildings and bridges. Harne envisions tiny trees feeding voltages to a sensor on the underside of a bridge, or on a girder deep inside a high-rise building.

The project takes advantage of the plentiful vibrational energy that surrounds us every day, he said. Some sources are wind-induced structural motions, seismic activity and human activity.

“Buildings sway ever so slightly in the wind, bridges oscillate when we drive on them and car suspensions absorb bumps in the road,” he said. “In fact, there’s a massive amount of kinetic energy associated with those motions that is otherwise lost. We want to recover and recycle some of that energy.”

Sensors monitor the soundness of a structure by detecting the vibrations that pass through it, he explained. The initial aim of the project is to turn those vibrations into electricity, so that structural monitoring systems could actually be powered by the same vibrations they are monitoring.

Today, the only way to power most structural sensors is to use batteries or plug the sensors directly into power lines, both of which are expensive and hard to manage for sensors planted in remote locations. If sensors could capture vibrational energy, they could acquire and wirelessly transmit their data is a truly self-sufficient way.

At first, the idea of using tree-like devices to capture wind or vibration energies may seem straightforward, because real trees obviously dissipate energy when they sway. And other research groups have tested the effectiveness of similar tree structures using idealized–that is, not random–vibrations.

But until now, researchers haven’t made a concerted effort to capture realistic ambient vibrations with a tree-shaped electromechanical device–mainly because it was assumed that random forces of nature wouldn’t be very suitable for generating the consistent oscillations that yield useful electrical energies.

First, through mathematical modeling, Harne determined that it is possible for tree-like structures to maintain vibrations at a consistent frequency despite large, random inputs, so that the energy can be effectively captured and stored via power circuitry. The phenomenon is called internal resonance, and it’s how certain mechanical systems dissipate internal energies.

In particular, he determined that he could exploit internal resonance to coax an electromechanical tree to vibrate with large amplitudes at a consistent low frequency, even when the tree was experiencing only high frequency forces. It even worked when these forces were significantly overwhelmed by extra random noise, as natural ambient vibrations would be in many environments.

He and his colleagues tested the mathematical model in an experiment, where they built a tree-like device out of two small steel beams–one a tree “trunk” and the other a “branch”–connected by a strip of an electromechanical material, polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), to convert the structural oscillations into electrical energy.

They installed the model tree on a device that shook it back and forth at high frequencies. At first, to the eye, the tree didn’t seem to move because the device oscillated with only small amplitudes at a high frequency. Regardless, the PVDF produced a small voltage from the motion: about 0.8 volts.

Then they added noise to the system, as if the tree were being randomly nudged slightly more one way or the other. That’s when the tree began displaying what Harne called “saturation phenomena”: It reached a tipping point where the high frequency energy was suddenly channeled into a low frequency oscillation. At this point, the tree swayed noticeably back and forth, with the trunk and branch vibrating in sync. This low frequency motion produced more than double the voltage–around 2 volts.

Those are low voltages, but the experiment was a proof-of-concept: Random energies can produce vibrations that are useful for generating electricity.

“In addition, we introduced massive amounts of noise, and found that the saturation phenomenon is very robust, and the voltage output reliable. That wasn’t known before,” Harne said.

Harne will continue this work, which he began when he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan. There, his colleagues and co-authors on the paper were Kon-Well Wang and Anqi Sun of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.


The initial phase of this research was supported by the University of Michigan Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering program and the University of Michigan Collegiate Professorship.

Contact: Ryan Harne, (614) 292-2767; Harne.3@osu.edu
Written by Pam Frost Gorder, (614) 292-9475; Gorder.1@osu.edu

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One of the biggest issues is weight when it comes to electric cars. The more weight you have the more energy you consume. Although battery technology is advancing it still is a painfully slow process.  By looking out of the box other solutions can be found to reduce the weight problem with the rest of the vehicle.

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The key factors for the electric car to really have an impact is increasing the range and reducing the cost. The solution will not just be found in new capacitor and battery technology, but a combination of other technologies being applied including new lightweight affordable materials

The following is the press release from UCLa

UCLA researchers create exceptionally strong and lightweight new metal

A team led by researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

To create the super-strong but lightweight metal, the team found a new way to disperse and stabilize nanoparticles in molten metals. They also developed a scalable manufacturing method that could pave the way for more high-performance lightweight metals. The research was published today in Nature.

“It’s been proposed that nanoparticles could really enhance the strength of metals without damaging their plasticity, especially light metals like magnesium, but no groups have been able to disperse ceramic nanoparticles in molten metals until now,” said Xiaochun Li, the principal investigator on the research and Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA. “With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today’s society.”

Structural metals are load-bearing metals; they are used in buildings and vehicles. Magnesium, at just two-thirds the density of aluminum, is the lightest structural metal. Silicon carbide is an ultra-hard ceramic commonly used in industrial cutting blades. The researchers’ technique of infusing a large number of silicon carbide particles smaller than 100 nanometers into magnesium added significant strength, stiffness, plasticity and durability under high temperatures.

The researchers’ new silicon carbide-infused magnesium demonstrated record levels of specific strength — how much weight a material can withstand before breaking — and specific modulus — the material’s stiffness-to-weight ratio. It also showed superior stability at high temperatures.

Ceramic particles have long been considered as a potential way to make metals stronger. However, with microscale ceramic particles, the infusion process results in a loss of plasticity.

Nanoscale particles, by contrast, can enhance strength while maintaining or even improving metals’ plasticity. But nanoscale ceramic particles tend to clump together rather than dispersing evenly, due to the tendency of small particles to attract one other.

To counteract this issue, researchers dispersed the particles into a molten magnesium zinc alloy. The newly discovered nanoparticle dispersion relies on the kinetic energy in the particles’ movement. This stabilizes the particles’ dispersion and prevents clumping.

To further enhance the new metal’s strength, the researchers used a technique called high-pressure torsion to compress it.

“The results we obtained so far are just scratching the surface of the hidden treasure for a new class of metals with revolutionary properties and functionalities,” Li said.

The new metal (more accurately called a metal nanocomposite) is about 14 percent silicon carbide nanoparticles and 86 percent magnesium. The researchers noted that magnesium is an abundant resource and that scaling up its use would not cause environmental damage.

The paper’s lead author is Lian-Yi Chen, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral scholar in Li’s Scifacturing Laboratory at UCLA. Chen is now an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

The paper’s other authors from UCLA include Jia-Quan Xu, a graduate student in materials science and engineering; Marta Pozuelo, an assistant development engineer; and Jenn-Ming Yang, professor of materials science and engineering.

The other authors on the paper are Hongseok Choi, of Clemson University; Xiaolong Ma, of North Carolina State University; Sanjit Bhowmick of Hysitron, Inc. of Minneapolis; and Suveen Mathaudhu of UC Riverside.

The research was funded in part by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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Russia can be one of the most energy-competitive areas based on renewables

This is one of those research projects where my only response is “good luck with that” Putin who is heavily involved with gas and oil interests in Russia may have something to say about this even if the economics add up. In China it is a different story with the cities still choking on coal fired power stations and the intent to become resource and energy independent.

coal downloadA fully renewable energy system is achievable and economically viable in Russia and Central Asia in 2030. Researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) modelled a renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia. Results show that renewable energy is the cheapest option for the continent and can make Russia a very energy competitive region in the future.

According to the research, a 100 percent renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia would be roughly 50 percent lower in cost than a system based on latest European nuclear technology or carbon capture and storage. Renewable energy covers electricity and industrial natural gas demand, not, for example, transport or heating.

“We think that this is the first ever 100% renewable energy system modelling for Russia and Central Asia. It demonstrates that Russia can become one of the most energy-competitive regions in the world”, emphasises professor Christian Breyer, co-author of the study.

Moving to a renewable energy system is possible due to the abundance of various types of renewable energy resources in the area. This then enables the building of a Super Grid, which connects different energy resources of the researched area.

Such a renewable energy system represents a drastic change compared to the current situation. The modelled energy system is based on wind, hydropower, solar, biomass and some geothermal energy. Wind amounts to about 60 percent of the production whilst solar, biomass and hydropower are distributed evenly. The total installed capacity of renewable energy in the system is about 550 gigawatts. Slightly more than half of this is wind energy and 20 percent is solar. The rest is composed of hydro and biomass supported with power-to-gas, pumped hydro storage and batteries. In the present situation, the total capacity is 388 gigawatts of which wind and solar only accounts for 1.5 gigawatts. The current system also has neither power-to-gas capacity nor batteries.

The geographical area of the research covers much of the northern hemisphere. Many of the countries in the area are currently reliant on the production and use of fossil fuels and nuclear power. In addition to Russia, the researched area includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan as well as Caucasus and Pamir regions including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and Kirgizstan and Tajikistan.

One of the key insights of the research is that energy sectors’ integration lowers the cost of electricity by 20 percent for Russia and Central Asia. When moving to a renewable energy system, for example, natural gas is replaced with power-to-gas, i.e. converting electricity into gases, such as hydrogen and synthetic natural gas. This increases the overall need for renewable energy. The more renewable capacity is built the more it can be used for different sectors: heating, transportation and industry. This flexibility of the system decreases the need for storages and lowers the cost of energy.


The research was done as part of Neo-Carbon Energy research project, which has previously shown that a renewable energy system is also economically sensible in North-East Asia, South-East Asia, South America and Finland.

Further information:

Christian Breyer

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