Generate electricity from breathing? New energy harvesting rubber could make that happen

Rubber imprinted with piezoelectric material that generates electricity when flexed. (Credit: Frank Wojciechowski/Princeton University)
OK, maybe putting this stuff next to your lungs and letting your breathing motion generate electricity is a little bit out there, but there are lots of other uses for this new power generating rubber material that’s been developed by researchers from Princeton and Caltech.   The new piezoelectric material, made of nanoribbons composed of lead zirconate titanate (PZT), generates electricity whenever pressure is applied.   While there are other piezoelectric materials in use, this new stuff is far more efficient – it’s able to convert 80 percent of the mechanical energy that’s applied to it into electrical energy.

The researchers, led by Michael McAlpine, and assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, see lots of potential uses for this material.   Rubber sheets could be put into your shoes, which would generate enough power from walking (or nervous tapping of your foot) to charge your cell phone.   Where does the breathing part fit in?  The researchers envision that “the new electricity-harvesting devices could be implanted in the body to perpetually power medical devices, and the body wouldn’t reject them.”   For example, someone with a pacemaker could have this material implanted next to their lungs to allow the breathing motions to power the pacemaker.  That would eliminate the need for surgery to replace batteries.

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