WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2016 - Objects resembling artificial trees made with electromechanical materials can convert random forces, such as footfalls on a bridge, into strong structural vibrations that are ideal for generating renewable power, according to researchers at Ohio State University.

The study takes advantage of the plentiful vibrational energy that surrounds us every day, says Ryan Harne, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State and the director of the Laboratory of Sound and Vibration Research. Some sources of this energy are wind-induced structural motions, seismic activity and human activity.

“Buildings sway ever so slightly in the wind, bridges oscillate when we drive on them and car suspensions absorb bumps in the road,” says Harne. “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 technology may prove most valuable when applied on a small scale, in situations where other renewable energy sources such as solar are not an option.

Early applications would include powering the sensors that monitor the structural integrity and health of civil infrastructure, such as buildings and bridges. Harne envisions “tiny trees” feeding voltages to a sensor on the underside of a bridge, or on a girder deep inside a high-rise building.


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