Researchers from Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) have developed a flexible material that generates electricity when stressed or compressed, an advance that may pave the way for smart clothing or self-powered pacemakers.
The specially designed rubber, is now able to convert mechanical movements into electrical charges and could potentially be used even as a sensor. For a long time, the piezoelectric effect was only known for crystals and as these are solid and heavy, the effect could only be used in a few applications.
“This material could probably even be used to obtain energy from the human body,” Empa scientist Dorina Opris
But now Empa scientist Dorina Opris and her team of researchers proved that these properties can also exist in elastic materials. “This material could probably even be used to obtain energy from the human body,” said Opris in a statement released by Empa. “You could implant it near the heart to generate electricity from the heartbeat, for instance.” This could power pacemakers or other implanted devices, eliminating the need for invasive operations to change the battery.
The trick behind the generated current is the internal polarisation which changes when the rubber film is mechanically stressed. For a long time, the piezoelectric effect was only known for crystals. And as these are heavy and solid, the effect was limited and could be used only in a few applications.
Unfortunately, this exciting new material is not easy to produce. Polar nanoparticles and silicone must be strenuously shaped before they are connected. Then, a strong electric field is introduced into the thin, elastic film to create the piezoelectric effect, which is achieved by exposing the material to extremely temperatures. So what this means is that the exposed material has to be exposed first to ultra-hot temperature and then again to ultra-cool temperature.