The energy crisis is about more than fossil fuels versus renewables: it’s about getting more from what we already use.
The research behind this exhibit aims to make various energy-harvesting technologies more efficient and practical. The exhibit demonstrates the hidden sources of useful energy – and the ‘Energy Race’ pits different energy-capturing technologies against each other to produce electrical power. Visitors can learn about the importance of thermodynamics in energy harvesting and about how vibrations can be used to produce electrical charge.
How does it work?
Energy harvesting, or ‘energy scavenging’, is a process that captures small amounts of energy that would otherwise be lost as heat, light, sound, vibration or motion. It can use this captured energy to improve the efficiency of systems, by reusing some of the waste energy, or even to power new technologies. For example:
- Vibration, movement and sound can be captured and transformed into electrical power using piezoelectric materials. Piezoelectricity literally translates as ‘electricity resulting from pressure’. In these materials, electric charge is produced in response to applied mechanical strain. Human motion, low-frequency vibrations, and acoustic noise are just some of the potential sources that could be harvested by piezoelectric materials.
- Heat can be captured and transformed into electrical power using thermoelectric materials. When there is a temperature difference across one of these materials (i.e. one side hot, the other cold), it causes a voltage across the material. If the temperature difference is kept constant, this voltage can be used to provide electrical power.
This video shows some of the science of this exhibit.