Artificial trees could generate renewable energy from vibration

March 14, 2016 1 By Amanda Giasson

U.S. researchers may have found a new form of green power generation from vibrations.

New findings from an ongoing renewable energy study at Ohio State University, involving a new technology that looks something like artificial leafless trees with limited branches, show that it is likely that the trees will be able to draw consistent energy from vibrations. The researchers discovered that when shaken, the trees undergo a type of vibration that can be utilized to generate electricity and that this generation of energy could be conducted with small-scale artificial trees. The researchers’ findings were published in the Journal of Sound and Vibration.

The mechanical trees have been designed to harness energy from anything that might cause it to shake.

Be it wind, traffic, people walking, the swaying of a tall building or seismic activity, anything that could make the artificial trees shake will enable them to harness the vibrations that result. The mechanical structures inspired by tree swaying, have been designed with electromechanical materials that enable them to convert random forces like wind or footsteps into strong structural vibrations that can be transformed into electricity.

Artificial Trees - Image of tree without leavesRyan Harne, the project leader, and assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Laboratory of Sound and Vibration Research, explained, “Buildings sway ever so slightly in the wind, bridges oscillate when we drive on them and car suspensions absorb bumps in the road.” Harne added, “In fact, there’s a massive amount of kinetic energy associated with those motions that is otherwise lost. We want to recover and recycle some of that energy.”

The artificial trees could one day be a form of renewable energy that replaces other forms of green electricity generation.

Although the researchers do not imagine that their artificial trees will be scattered all over the place – mostly because they believe that this particular technology works best for small-scale applications that require little power – they do believe that the renewable tech will be well suited in areas where other forms of clean power generation systems simply don’t work.

For instance, not every area is suited to giant wind turbines or even solar panels. In some cases, these trees may be highly beneficial, such as if they were used to replace batteries to power building sensors that monitor a structure’s integrity or to provide power to a bridge.

While these U.S. researchers are not the first to have developed a tree-like design to be used for energy generating technologies, they are the first to have proven that random vibrations that occur in real life can be a consistent and reliable source of energy.

The research team’s proof of concept successfully resulted in the artificial trees producing about 2 volts of electricity. Now, they will work on scaling up the experiment and boost the voltage. It is the belief of the researchers that this design will prove to be a reliable source of renewable energy for low power applications across the globe.