Researchers from The City College of New York are hoping to get something for nothing, thanks to piezoelectric materials that can convert kinetic energy into electricity when subjected to pressure. Outfitting these small devices to moving vehicles could produce enough energy to power car lights, radios, and even cell phones, effectively reducing fossil fuel consumption (though on a small scale) virtually for free.
Piezoelectric materials generate energy by taking advantage of turbulence that results from moving objects. When air moves around something (a speeding car, for example), the flow pattern initially conforms to the shape of the object it streamlines. At a specific point, however, the air separates from the shape, resulting in irregular patterns of eddies and vortexes in its wake. This, in turn, causes thin piezoelectric strips to vibrate and produce voltage, assuming they’re properly mounted.
While there is currently no timeline for commercial products to incorporate this technology, the team is experimenting with how to maximize amperage. If successful, we may someday find piezoelectric devices in our cars, atop buildings, and in other remote locations where a steady supply of electricity is unavailable.