Seiki Chiba, Mikio Waki, Roy Kornbluh, and Ron Pelrine “Innovative power generators for energy harvesting using electroactive polymer artificial muscles”, Proc. SPIE 6927, Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD) 2008, 692715 (10 April 2008); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.778345
The type of electroactive polymer known as dielectric elastomers has shown considerable promise for a variety of actuator applications and may be well suited for harvesting energy from environmental sources such as ocean waves or water currents. The high energy density and conversion efficiency of dielectric elastomers can allow for very simple and robust “direct drive” generators. Preliminary energy harvesting generators based on dielectric elastomers have been tested. A generator attached to a rotating waterwheel via a crankshaft produced 35 mJ per revolution in a laboratory test with an actual water flow. A generator that harvests the energy of ocean waves for purposes of supplying power to ocean buoys (such as navigation buoys) was tested at sea for two weeks. This buoy-mounted generator uses a proof-mass to provide the mechanical forces that stretch and contract the dielectric elastomer generator. The generator operated successfully during the sea trials. Wave conditions were very small during this test. Although the device did not produce large amounts of power, it did produce net power output with waves as small as 10 cm peak-to-peak wave height. Both the waterwheel and buoy-mounted generators will be scaled up o produce larger amounts of power. The use of significantly larger amounts of dielectric elastomer material to produce generator modules with outputs in the kilowatt range is being investigated for application to ocean wave power systems.