The global energy dialogue is easily one of the most important conversations happening right now. Our planet is home to over seven billion people and shows no signs of slowing down. How will we provide power to all of these people without jeopardizing our environmental and economic landscapes? Can we create a new way to help power our world? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.
Creating new methods of providing power will require some creative work by technologists. Humanity has often looked to nature for inspiration for creative technology. Birds were the inspiration for our flying machines, the human eye helped design the camera, sticky plants were the muse for velcro, and now scientists are looking at trees to help invent new ways of powering our world.
In the past we’ve seen news headlines about using light harvesting antenna attached to bio-engineered trees to use a photosynthetic process to harvest power for our daily needs. There are also lots of examples of using turbines in rivers or spinning in the air to generate power too. A bold new idea was recently introduced that uses a few of these notions working together. The inspiration for this power source came from the leaves of cottonwood trees. A piezoelectric tree was introduced as a potential way of harnessing the wind to generate electricity.
As the wind blows it would move specially created artificial leaves. This kinetic motion would allow for the specially designed strips in these leaves to release an electrical charge. Piezoelectric technology essentially turns motion energy into electrical power. The structure itself loosely resembles a tree, a base stick with small branches extending outwards. Each branch holds a few of these piezoelectric leaves and would be able to take the energy created from the wind moving the leaves to produce an output of useable electric energy thanks to some well engineered nanotechnology in this artificial tree itself.
If this piece of technology gets implemented in the world we could come up with a lot of places to hold these trees. Phone poles could have arms that extend outward letting these energy generating leaves create power using the wind. Cell towers, tall buildings, balconies, backyards, and several other places could host these structures. Perhaps the design itself could also be reconfigured into artistic sculptures someday as well.
Regardless, for now this is a very welcome invention and yet another great conversation pieces for the global energy dialogue. More testing will continue, but look for this technology to become more and more common in the news. Individuals working in the renewable energy field are working every day to get their own industry to branch out with more creative options being brought to the table. This piezoelectric tree is a great new innovation and could lead to a lot of great changes in the power consumption of our growing planet. After all, the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.