We’re learning a lot about new green energy technology these days, from wireless solar power to smog-eating concrete. And now this: a plastic used in tubing can actually produce electricity when stretched. Researchers have known about this property for a while, but weren’t sure how to take advantage of it—until now. Scientists at the University of Texas, in conjunction with others, are working to create fibers from the material, in order to open the door for an nearly infinite range of green energy applications, as well as potential medical breakthroughs, such as artificial muscle.
Walter Voit, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) heads the team, which will present their findings at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) this week. Speaking of the material, which is called polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), he told Phys.org, “If we produce it under precise conditions, we can make it piezoelectric, which means if I stretch it, it generates electricity. Or I can put electricity onto the surface of the material and make it change shape.”
Voit and his colleague Shashank Priya, Ph.D., at Virginia Tech, have led the development of “soft” energy-harvesting materials under a National Science Foundation (NSF) program. Their research will help PVDF find a slew of new applications, including a potential material for artificial muscles, which must be flexible and able to stretch and contract with an electrical impulse. They’ve also discussed the possibility of using the material for passive energy-harvesting purposes, such as collecting the energy generated by airplane passengers as they move around in a plane’s cabin. The energy harvested could be used to power lights and other low-demand functions, and help replace some of an airplane’s cabling to make it lighter and more energy efficient.