New Research Could Electrify Rubber

Posted by Michael R. Honig

Burning rubber could become a catch phrase for a new type of green movement.

The latest issue of the American Chemical Society announced creation of a piezoelectric rubber material which could eventually be economical enough to make everyday motions of people and devices into usable energy.

Lead zirconate titanate, or PZT (and for those who may wonder, Pb is the chemical symbol for lead, hence the “P”), is not a new material, and using it in everyday products that can generate electricity is not a new idea. The trick is to make it cheap and flexible enough.

Teams at Princeton and Caltech, led by Princeton assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Michael McAlpine, think they may have an answer. With a ‘stress-to-energy’ conversion efficiency of 80%, the team believes that PZT offers the most cost-effective chance of turning everyday activity into useful electrical power, and they believe that the process they developed holds great promise in turning that potential into affordable reality. Obvious potential applications include shoe soles, garments, and even chest straps which could turn breathing into power for implanted medical devices.

Me, I want power-generating tires on cars, trucks, etc. Put those on a hybrid or electrical vehicle and charge as you drive. Yes, I know about those pesky laws of thermodynamics and there being no such thing as a free lunch or a perpetual motion machine, but piezoelectric tires could generate power instead of waste heat from the stresses of driving on the road.

No cheating, the universe is happy and balanced, and we can drive and still feel environmentally responsible.

I wish Professor McAlpine and his teams all the luck in the world. For those who are curious, Yes. There is a patent pending: U.S. Patent Pending 61/259,304.