An electroactive polymer energy harvester for wireless sensor networks
This paper reports the design, fabrication, and testing of a soft electroactive polymer power generator that has a volume of 1cm(3). The generator provides an opportunity to harvest energy from environmental sources to power wireless sensor networks because it can harvest from low frequency motions, is compact, and lightweight. Electroactive polymers are highly stretchable variable capacitors. Electrical energy is produced when the deformation of a stretched, charged electroactive polymer is relaxed; like-charges are compressed together and opposite-charges are pushed apart, resulting in an increased voltage. Although electroactive polymers have impressively displayed energy densities as high as 550 mJ/g, they have been based on films with thicknesses of tens to hundreds of micrometers, thus a generator covering a large area would be required to provide useful power. Energy harvesters covering large areas are inconvenient to deploy in a wireless sensor network with a large number of nodes, so a generator that is compact in all three dimensions is required. In this work we fabricated a generator that can fit within a 11x11x9 mm envelope by stacking 42, 11mm diameter generator films on top of each other. When compressed cyclically at a rate of 0.5 Hz our generator produced 300 uW of power which is a sufficient amount of power for a low power wireless sensor node. The combination of our generator's small form factor and ability to harvest useful energy from low frequency motions provides an opportunity to deploy large numbers of wireless sensor nodes without the need for periodic, costly battery replacement.