Infoscience

Journal article

Dielectric elastomer generators that stack up

This paper reports the design, fabrication, and testing of a soft dielectric elastomer power generator with a volume of less than 1 cm3. The generator is well suited to harvest energy from ambient and from human body motion as it can harvest from low frequency (sub-Hz) motions, and is compact and lightweight. Dielectric elastomers are highly stretchable variable capacitors. Electrical energy is produced when the deformation of a stretched, charged dielectric elastomer is relaxed; like-charges are compressed together and opposite-charges are pushed apart, resulting in an increased voltage. This technology provides an opportunity to produce soft, high energy density generators with unparalleled robustness. Two major issues block this goal: current configurations require rigid frames that maintain the dielectric elastomer in a prestretched state, and high energy densities have come at the expense of short lifetime. This paper presents a self-supporting stacked generator configuration which does not require rigid frames. The generator consists of 48 generator films stacked on top of each other, resulting in a structure that fits within an 11 mm diameter footprint while containing enough active material to produce useful power. To ensure sustainable power production, we also present a mathematical model for designing the electronic control of the generator which optimizes energy production while limiting the electrical stress on the generator below failure limits. When cyclically compressed at 1.6 Hz, our generator produced 1.8 mW of power, which is sufficient for many low-power wireless sensor nodes. This performance compares favorably with similarly scaled electromagnetic, piezoelectric, and electrostatic generators. The generator's small form factor and ability to harvest useful energy from low frequency motions such as tree swaying or shoe impact provides an opportunity to deliver power to remote wireless sensor nodes or to distributed points in the human body without the need for costly periodic battery replacement

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