Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting for Powering Wireless Monitoring Systems

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Virginia Tech


The urgent need for a clean and sustainable power supply for wireless sensor nodes and low-power electronics in various monitoring systems and the Internet of Things has led to an explosion of research in substitute energy technologies. Traditional batteries are still the most widely used power source for these applications currently but have been blamed for chemical pollution, high maintenance cost, bulky volume, and limited energy capacity. Ambient energy in different forms such as vibration, movement, heat, wind, and waves otherwise wasted can be converted into usable electricity using proper transduction mechanisms to power sensors and low-power devices or charge rechargeable batteries. This dissertation focuses on the design, modeling, optimization, prototype, and testing of novel piezoelectric energy harvesters for extracting energy from human walking, bio-inspired bi-stable motion, and torsional vibration as an alternative power supply for wireless monitoring systems.

To provide a sustainable power supply for health care monitoring systems, a piezoelectric footwear harvester is developed and embedded inside a shoe heel for scavenging energy from human walking. The harvester comprises of multiple 33-mode piezoelectric stacks within single-stage force amplification frames sandwiched between two heel-shaped aluminum plates taking and reallocating the dynamic force at the heel. The single-stage force amplification frame is designed and optimized to transmit, redirect, and amplify the heel-strike force to the inner piezoelectric stack. An analytical model is developed and validated to predict precisely the electromechanical coupling behavior of the harvester. A symmetric finite element model is established to facilitate the mesh of the transducer unit based on a material equivalent model that simplifies the multilayered piezoelectric stack into a bulk. The symmetric FE model is experimentally validated and used for parametric analysis of the single-stage force amplification frame for a large force amplification factor and power output. The results show that an average power output of 9.3 mW/shoe and a peak power output of 84.8 mW are experimentally achieved at the walking speed of 3.0 mph (4.8 km/h). To further improve the power output, a two-stage force amplification compliant mechanism is designed and incorporated into the footwear energy harvester, which could amplify the dynamic force at the heel twice before applied to the inner piezoelectric stacks. An average power of 34.3 mW and a peak power of 110.2 mW were obtained under the dynamic force with the amplitude of 500 N and frequency of 3 Hz. A comparison study demonstrated that the proposed two-stage piezoelectric harvester has a much larger power output than the state-of-the-art results in the literature.

A novel bi-stable piezoelectric energy harvester inspired by the rapid shape transition of the Venus flytrap leaves is proposed, modeled and experimentally tested for the purpose of energy harvesting from broadband frequency vibrations. The harvester consists of a piezoelectric macro fiber composite (MFC) transducer, a tip mass, and two sub-beams with bending and twisting deformations created by in-plane pre-displacement constraints using rigid tip-mass blocks. Different from traditional ways to realize bi-stability using nonlinear magnetic forces or residual stress in laminate composites, the proposed bio-inspired bi-stable piezoelectric energy harvester takes advantage of the mutual self-constraint at the free ends of the two cantilever sub-beams with a pre-displacement. This mutual pre-displacement constraint bi-directionally curves the two sub-beams in two directions inducing higher mechanical potential energy. The nonlinear dynamics of the bio-inspired bi-stable piezoelectric energy harvester is investigated under sweeping frequency and harmonic excitations. The results show that the sub-beams of the harvester experience local vibrations, including broadband frequency components during the snap-through, which is desirable for large power output. An average power output of 0.193 mW for a load resistance of 8.2 kΩ is harvested at the excitation frequency of 10 Hz and amplitude of 4.0 g.

Torsional vibration widely exists in mechanical engineering but has not yet been well exploited for energy harvesting to provide a sustainable power supply for structural health monitoring systems. A torsional vibration energy harvesting system comprised of a shaft and a shear mode piezoelectric transducer is developed in this dissertation to look into the feasibility of harvesting energy from oil drilling shaft for powering downhole sensors. A theoretical model of the torsional vibration piezoelectric energy harvester is derived and experimentally verified to be capable of characterizing the electromechanical coupling system and predicting the electrical responses. The position of the piezoelectric transducer on the surface of the shaft is parameterized by two variables that are optimized to maximize the power output. Approximate expressions of the voltage and power are derived by simplifying the theoretical model, which gives predictions in good agreement with analytical solutions. Based on the derived approximate expression, physical interpretations of the implicit relationship between the power output and the position parameters of the piezoelectric transducer are given.



Energy harvesting, Wireless monitoring, Piezoelectric, Human walking, Torsional vibration, Bio-inspired design, Bi-stable nonlinear vibration