Did you know your dance moves could do more than just burn calories? Your fancy footwork could actually generate electricity through a phenomenon called piezoelectricity. Piezoelectricity is created when pressure is applied to certain materials (like quartz, crystal, ceramic, or cane sugar), and a charge begins to gather in response to the strain. This charge will only gather in materials that are piezoelectric (like those listed above).
Piezoelectricity is not new – it has been used in quartz clocks for quite some time. But, people are starting to get creative with how they put piezoelectricity to work. Club Watt, a club in the Netherlands, installed piezoelectric materials in its dance floor and used the energy produced to power the floor’s lights. A railway station in Tokyo has put piezoelectric materials in its floors to power the station’s ticket gates and displays. The city of Toulouse, France has installed piezoelectric modules in the sidewalks to power the streetlamps.
Think of how much electricity could be generated if similar piezoelectric modules were placed in the sidewalks of major cities around the world. The foot traffic in New York, Beijing, London, or Paris would undoubtedly produce a significant amount of electricity. Would it be enough to power the entire city? No. But every little bit helps, and this method would ensure a constant stream of electricity.
Piezoelectricity isn’t just limited to sidewalks. Companies in the UK and Israel have begun to install piezoelectric strips into asphalt so that cars driving along the road can produce electricity. One highway in Israel produces enough electricity to power 2,500 homes. Nothing to scoff at, right?
Taking the concept even further, Princeton has created a new ultra-efficient piezoelectric material, called “PZT,” that is 100 times more efficient than quartz and can convert up to 80% of encountered mechanical energy into electricity. This material is sensitive to even the minutest of vibrations, so PZT could theoretically be placed in your clothing or your shoes and be used to charge devices on the go.
Think of all the possibilities! While it would be cool to have your jeans charge your cell phone, the ramifications here are much larger. Houses could contain piezoelectric tiles. Cities could be equipped with piezoelectric sidewalks. Highways could be equipped with piezoelectric asphalt. Ultra-efficient PZT could be used to pick up vibrations near airports, in metro tunnels, on basketball courts, in kitchens – the potential for electricity lays almost anywhere! While I would need to do further research to learn about the resource-intensiveness of creating PZT or the sustainability of piezoelectric materials, I think piezoelectricity is definitely worth exploring. We can potentially convert day-to-day actions into electricity. Wouldn’t that make your commute seem much more worthwhile?