A vehicle that gets energy from its wheels

Engineers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in cooperation with a researcher from China, developed a nano-generator that collects energy from the friction of the tires of a vehicle, thus creating basically a technology that is a big step towards the direction of the truly independent vehicles.

For the time being however, that nano-generator can only help vehicles that it is attached to, manage the energy they are spending more sufficiently.

Researchers presented this development – first of its kind- on a paper that was published on the Nano Energy magazine on May. The nano-generator is based on the triboelectric phenomenon in order to collect energy from the changing electric voltage between the wheels and the road surface (for those of you who are having trouble following, the triboelectric effect is the load resulting from the contact or friction between two dissimilar objects).

According to Xudong Wang of UW Madison, it’s about a wonderful way to take advantage of energy that is usually lost due to the friction. And more specifically, according to the press release, “Rather than relying on a strain or an electrical field, the researchers incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles into a PVDF thin film to trigger formation of the piezoelectric phase that enables it to harvest vibration energy. Then, they etched the nanoparticles off the film; the resulting interconnected pores—called “mesopores” because of their size—cause the otherwise stiff material to behave somewhat like a sponge.” That sponge-like material is key to harvesting vibration energy. The softer the material, the more sensitive it is to small vibrations.

tires_0Mr. Wang also supports that the friction between an elastic and the ground consumes roughly 10% of a vehicle’s combustible. This means that all this energy is going to waste. So, if they could convert it, it would be a major improvement to the efficiency, concerning fuels.

Mr Wang continued to add:  “We can create tunable mechanical properties in the film. And also important is the design of the device. Because we can realize this structure, phone-powering cases or self-powered sensor systems might become possible.”

The nanogenerator is based on an electrode that is embodied to a part of the elastic. When that part comes in contact with the ground, the friction between the two surfaces, produces electric charge. During the first few tests, Wang and his colleagues used a toy-car with LED lights to present the general concept. As the car moved the lights managed to lit, as enough energy had been produced – something that boosts the idea that the energy which gets lost from the friction can be collected and reused.

Also, it is worth noting that the energy collected under such circumstances, is directly proportional to the speed and the vehicle’s weight.

Now so far, everything looks super complicated and probably for most of us too hard to follow. So to make things simpler, just keep in mind that researchers are close to creating a generator that shows promise for self-powered electronics.

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