Comment »Posted on Monday 23 November 2009 at 6:47 pm by Jacob Aron
In Climate Change & Environment, Getting It Right, Inventions & Technology

I don’t know why, but I just love clever ideas for electricity generation. Maybe it’s because I’m a great big nerd with vague but constant guilt about how the energy I used is produced.

The latest idea I’ve seen comes from researchers at the City College of New York, who’ve developed a way to literally suck energy from the air flow around cars and planes. They’re using materials with piezoelectric properties, which convert physical movement in to electricity, to generate a form of wind power.

It works like this. Airplanes, cars and other vehicles all create an airflow as the move forward and push the air around the to one side. Placing a small piezoelectric device into this flow, not much bigger than your thumbnail, will produce a voltage that can charge a battery.

You’re not going to be running your car on it any time soon – the energy produced is nowhere near enough to power an engine. We use cars for a lot more than just driving these days though, and the piezoelectric devices could power internal computer systems, or charge your mobile phone. The researchers are now trying to model the best location for their devices on a vehicle to maximise the energy they produce.

I think that ideas like this are the future of electricity generation. It’s not a very sexy solution to the problems of climate change, and you won’t see any politicians crying “let’s all attach small things to our cars!”, but if we can come up with loads of small ways to produce clean power, it could add up to a significant carbon saving.


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