Have you ever noticed that if you stretch a rubber band a bunch of times in a row, it gets warm? That’s an indication of energy being generated by the stretching of the material. What if it produced electricity instead of heat? That’s the focus of new research by scientists at Ricoh and the Tokyo University of Science.
Piezoelectric materials generate electricity when a force is applied. In general, these materials fall into two categories. Ceramic materials are highly efficient at converting force to electricity, but they tend to be heavy and fragile. The other group consists of polymer materials that are flexible, but they do not produce much power. Ricoh and its collaborators have developed “Energy-Generating Rubber” that combines the high output levels of ceramic piezoelectric materials with the flexibility of polymers. In addition, the new material can be produced in large sheets at relatively low temperatures. It is able to produce power from small forces, but is durable enough to withstand heavy loads.
While still in the research stage, this new material could have enormous implications for many markets including wearable Health Tech devices. It could form the basis for efficient energy harvesting for everything from clothing to footwear; imagine if your shoes generated electricity with every step. This could be a practical solution for charging a network of body sensors and other devices.