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Energy-generating rubber



Japanese technology company Ricoh in collaboration with the Tokyo University of Science have developed a breakthrough material in the field of piezoelectrics. Piezoelectric materials generate electricity from mechanical strain such as vibrations.  Good examples in the built environment come from companies such as The Facility and Pavegen who have developed solutions that generate electricity from footfall in busy public spaces and even a football pitch in Brazil.

Current piezoelectric solutions rely on either ceramics or polymers.  Ceramics can prove to be heavy and fragile whilst polymers achieve flexibility at the expense of energy output.  The new rubber material provides a viable solution to both these challenges by delivering an equivalent output to ceramic solutions through a flexible sheet.  Since the material is relatively soft it does not require high temperature processes, therefore reducing its embodied impact.

The researchers at Tokyo University of Science used mechanism analysis at the molecular level via computational chemistry to come up with this new approach to piezoeltrics.

The manufacturers believe that the flexibility of the material, combined with its durability and high-output potential opens up greater potential for energy harvesting to be employed in larger formats.  This could be particularly interesting for built environment applications where the material could be integrated into existing build systems to more effectively harvest energy and incorporate more and more components into the Internet of Things.
Image courtesy of Ricoh Company Limited