You have probably heard the word Piezoelectricity (literally meaning “pressing electricity”) thrown around quite a lot in recent times. From helping quartz watches keep regular time to reducing vibrations/shock that tennis rackets transfer to a player’s arm, piezoelectricity has many applications in everyday life.
Piezoelectric materials convert strains (from external forces) to an electrical potential. It was this simple yet amazing application that motivated a team led by Abhishek Arunachalam, a 4th year Civil Engineering student at IIT Delhi to take up a project aimed at developing products that cater to low power applications even at remote places. The product, a PZT patch, can continue to provide power for as long as 30 years if it is designed properly. It is an interdisciplinary project under the 1-2-3-4 project initiative and has students from all years of diverse departments such as Civil and Electrical contributing to it. The project has already won a UG consolation prize at Open House 2017 and registered for 3 national level research innovation competitions.
Today we are surrounded by a multitude of devices like walkie talkies, traffic signals and street lights that run on low power. Providing electricity to these essential devices is sometimes difficult especially in remote areas. The primary motive behind the project is to develop products that harness ambient sources of energy to power our everyday requirements. These sources are omnipresent and vary from air flow in open regions and HVAC (ventilation) ducts to the mechanical energy transferred to shoes while walking. The team also aims to extend the sources to include speed breakers on roads and the vibrations induced in moving train coaches. This is a research project aimed at solving a general energy crisis which could help millions if implemented passionately and accurately.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Abhishek explained how initially it was only a department specific project (Civil Engineering) but in May, they realized that not only the output would be manifold if students having a background in Electrical Engineering contributed to the project, but also it would vastly increase the scope of the project. Hence they expanded their team and took in people from Electrical and Mechanical departments too. Their mentors for the project are Prof. Suresh Bhalla of Civil Engineering Department and Prof. B. K. Panigrahi of Electrical Engineering Department. They received immense help from Prof Naresh Bhalla of the Mechanical Department who specializes in the field of composites (an intermediate material that could maximize the energy transfer to the Piezoelectric material).
Praise for the 1-2-3-4 initiative
Abhishek feels that it is an amazing initiative for long term projects as it leads to greater detailing and more scope for improvement of the project due to the diversity of inputs from all levels of intellectual depth as well as the greater duration for which the project tends to run. Moreover, it induces a good team environment. Teaching and learning in the team is better. The growth and development of every individual is more significant since there is an extensive sharing of knowledge and ideas between students of diverse years.
Abhishek reiterated the importance of the courses offered by the Institute and emphasized that they were the main source of their initial knowledge. It is because of this that they prefer students from Civil and Electrical Engineering department. They further enhanced their knowledge by reading diverse literature materials available on the Internet. The initial 3 months of the project were spent on focused literature review and this is an important period of the project, which is neglected in many cases. They have covered almost 20-25 papers and theses till now to gain the necessary knowledge and don’t intend to stop!
Some challenges were trivial like the removal of noise entering their signals. Others were more challenging like designing the harvester for highly varying conditions like inconsistent wind speeds. To tackle this, the design is being made for the average of these loads. At later stages, mechanisms which manipulate the harvester to tune itself according to the loading conditions will be added so that the energy extraction is maximised near resonance condition.
Another challenge was making the device compact to improve portability and reduce space requirement. The main bulkiness of the harvesters is due to the circuitry rather than piezoelectric materials. They are also working on switching techniques, which would remove the constraint of low capacitance requirement.
Abhishek elucidated that the project is a long-term initiative and they hope to get the final working project within 2 years. He plans to diversify this research and take it to the next level by extending it to a startup as soon as they have fully developed products. “The competitions that we have applied for are ONGC 2nd National Competition 2017, GYTI Award 2018 and India Innovation Challenge Design Contest 2017 which are sponsored by well known companies looking for alternatives to conventional non renewable sources of energy. The technical background that we have, if combined with the industrial support offered by the sponsors would help get the product to market pretty easily. It has progressed sufficient enough to give us an outlook of what our final products would look like by 2019, which obviously was not the case when we started off with trivial course knowledge. Working on such projects helps you tackle the real world problems rather than just textbook issues.”
HOW HAS IT HELPED YOU?
“As the team leader, this project has improved my management skills – from organizing weekly meetings twice a week to coordinating with faculty, equipment and material dealers, lab staffs and the R&D unit of IITD. I feel it has a lot in store for all of us if we dedicatedly progress the way we are doing now. We welcome applications for joining our project from Civil and Electrical department among the Freshers (2017 entry). I am a research-oriented student and have always aspired of setting up an R&D startup, which will cater to a lot of infrastructural needs of the society. This is an important step in that direction.”
We wish Abhishek and his team the best for their future endeavours and hope that their passion for technical innovation is able to inspire several more IITians to undertake such engineering projects.