From Boots to Buoys: Promises and Challenges of Dielectric Elastomer Energy Harvesting


Roy D. Kornbluh, Ron Pelrine, Harsha Prahlad, Annjoe Wong-Foy, Brian McCoy, Susan Kim, Joseph Eckerle, and Tom Low “From boots to buoys: promises and challenges of dielectric elastomer energy harvesting”, Proc. SPIE 7976, Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD) 2011, 797605 (28 March 2011);


Dielectric elastomers offer the promise of energy harvesting with few moving parts. Power can be produced simply by stretching and contracting a relatively low-cost rubbery material. This simplicity, combined with demonstrated high energy density and high efficiency, suggests that dielectric elastomers are promising for a wide range of energy harvesting applications. Indeed, dielectric elastomers have been demonstrated to harvest energy from human walking, ocean waves, flowing water, blowing wind, and pushing buttons. While the technology is promising, there are challenges that must be addressed if dielectric elastomers are to be a successful and economically viable energy harvesting technology. These challenges include developing materials and packaging that sustains long lifetime over a range of environmental conditions, design of the devices that stretch the elastomer material, as well as system issues such as practical and efficient energy harvesting circuits. Progress has been made in many of these areas. We have demonstrated energy harvesting transducers that have operated over 5 million cycles. We have also shown the ability of dielectric elastomer material to survive for months underwater while undergoing voltage cycling. We have shown circuits capable of 78% energy harvesting efficiency. While the possibility of long lifetime has been demonstrated at the watt level, reliably scaling up to the power levels required for providing renewable energy to the power grid or for local use will likely require further development from the material through to the systems level.

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