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Harvesting rainfall energy by means of


piezoelectric transducer

Conference Paper June 2013


DOI: 10.1109/ICCEP.2013.6586952

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Harvesting rainfall energy by means of
piezoelectric transducer

F. Viola, P. Romano, R. Miceli, G. Acciari


DEIM Dipartimento di Energia, Ingegneria dellInformazione e Modelli Matematici
Universit degli Studi di Palermo - Viale delle Scienze, Palermo (Italy)

Abstract In this paper a detailed study on the electromechanical model, as well as accurate uncertainty
piezoelectric energy harvesting of rainfall is presented. analysis of measured data is required.
Different features have been taken into account in order to Another aspect regarding the production of electricity
define the limits in this energy harvesting. Only commercial from rain is related to the protection of the soil. In times
transducers have been considered: a lead zirconate titanate of sowing, the soil is protected by sheeting to protect the
and polyvinylidene difluoride transducer.
seeds. Sheets must be used to damp the energy of rainfall
Keywordsenergy harvesting, piezoelectric.
and prevent the disintegration and the collapse of the
rocks which can be turned in hazardous landslides. In the
first case the protective sheeting have seasonal character,
I. INTRODUCTION not compatible with the installation of photovoltaic
Today, renewable energy sources are widely promoted systems; in the second case the need to protect soil in
worldwide [1-10]. Among renewable energy sources, fuel steep points cannot provide ideal conditions for the
cell use has been deeply investigated for a wide variety of deployment of solar panels. The question is if a
research areas, from handheld devices to household piezoelectric sheet can provide a solution to these
appliances [11-15]. Due to the combined heat-power problems.
generation option, fuel cells are the most promising
source of energy for residential use, often coupled with II. PIEZOELECTRIC MATERIALS AND MODEL
other renewable sources as photovoltaic arrays. In recent In the experiments two types of piezoelectric materials
years, together with a rapidly growing interest in have been taken into consideration: piezoelectric ceramic
renewable energy sources and their reliable working [16- Lead Zirconate Titanate (PZT) and polyvinylidene
19], much attention has been given to the possibility of difluoride (PVDF). This choice was made to try to
generating energy without the use of conventional provide a comprehensive overview of the possibility to
thermal power or nuclear plants, in order to meet also the extract energy from precipitation. Indeed, the presence of
growing demand for energy in developing countries. A lead in PZT transducer places him among the materials
discussion that it is undertaken relates to convert, by shall not be used to avoid contaminating the environment.
means of piezoelectric plates, the kinetic energy Piezoelectricity is a property present in many materials,
possessed by the drops of rainwater into electrical energy which, subjected to mechanical stress, develop electrical
[20-21]. For this application, since a limited amount of charges on their surface (direct piezoelectric effect) and,
environmental energy is drawn, the power conversion vice versa, subjected to an electric field, are deformed
efficiency of the whole harvesting system is the key mechanically (effect inverse piezoelectric). The ability of
target, even overcoming the conventional performance piezoelectric materials to convert electrical energy into
indicators [22-23]. In the literature, several solutions to mechanical and vice versa depends on their crystalline
improve the power conversion efficiency are proposed structure. The necessary condition occurs because the
[24-28].The works reported in the literature agree that the piezoelectric effect is the absence of a center of symmetry
single drop of water hitting the piezoelectric plates in the crystal, which is responsible for charge separation
generates voltages less than the tens of volts. The between positive and negative ions and the formation of
objective of this study is to demonstrate whether similar the Weiss domains, i.e. groups of dipoles with parallel
values can certainly be used for feeding single electronic orientation. Applying an electric field to a piezoelectric
devices, by means of storage systems, or connected in material, the Weiss domains are aligned in proportion to
series and parallel may be desirable for the supply of the field. Consequently, the size of the material change,
power equipment. Accurate system modeling is key to a by increasing or decreasing if the direction of the Weiss
successful conclusion of the overall design process. In the domains is the same as or opposite to the electric field.
literature, the importance of accurate system modeling as To describe in simplistic terms the direct effect it can be
well as the chance of a unique co-simulation environment said that by applying an external force to a piezoelectric
to match several heterogeneous models is widely material the modification of the positions of the ions in
addressed [29-30]. For this purpose accurate the crystal lattice induces a separation of charge that

978-1-4673-4430-2/13/$31.00 2013 IEEE 634


produces an electric dipole with a single axis of signals, since it fails to generate pulses at high pressure
symmetry. It is beyond the scope of this study provide an when the sheet is very large. If the device is placed in the
exhaustive description of the phenomenon and of the cavity saturated with air, such as headphones or hearing
changes that have been developed to optimize the aids, then the yield is much higher and the low frequency
electrical performance and mechanical specifications, response of the piezoelectric is improved. The presented
interesting discussion can be found in [31]. model depends also on the state of locking of the
The piezoelectric transducer can be considered as a piezoelectric film: if it is bound by both ends, or only
charge generator or a voltage generator. When the one. In order to improve the response of the model such
piezoelectric film is subjected to a pressure, inside choice has to be made: PZT can be easily locked by one
charges are generated which give rise to an electric field. or two ends, due to their rigid structure, only short PVDF
The electrodes that are located close to the surface, are can be locked by only one end, due to their flexible
affected by this field and accumulate on their faces a structure.
quantity of charge proportional to pressure. At this point Different studies in the literature show encouraging
the role of the transducer may be interpreted differently results with regard to the generation of electricity from
depending on the type of load that is connected at its water droplets. The piezoelectric transducers can reach
ends: if the load has an input impedance very low, the tens of volts, but this result does not yet allow to attribute
charges that accumulate on the electrodes are poured to them the character of power generators. The water
entirely on it, similarly to a charge generator; if the drops continuity in the same place is very variable: there
piezoelectric material is connected to a high-impedance may be intervals of seconds (small rainfall) or fractions of
load the charges remain confined on the faces of the seconds (downpour). The previous expressed voltage is a
sensor thus keeping the electric field unchanged, as in a peak-peak voltage, not a continuous voltage, so an
voltage generator. A suitable equivalent electrical model equivalent average voltage has to be defined. For a power
can be that of a voltage source in series with a capacitor system the equivalent average current can be obtained by
or the equivalent Nortons one. Also a resistance that using a bridge rectifier and a smoothing capacity; for the
connects the two ends of the active component can be theoretical model initially this approach has been not
used to refine the model, so introducing the electrical considered.
loss. In order to define the behavior of the To evaluate the power output of a piezoelectric
electromechanical transducer also the mechanical part has transducer is necessary to define a range of possible
to be modeled, Fig.1. stresses. The single drop of water can have a diameter
Lm that varies between 0.2 to 6 mm. Considering a cruise
Rm
speed on impact of approximately 2 m/s for the small
+ drop and 9 m/s for the largest, it is possible to estimate
the energy input: Emin=3.1J, Emax=0.063J. Also consi-
stress Ce V dering the interval of two seconds to have a successive
drop, the power is: Pmin=1.5W , Pmax=0. 031W.
Cm The energy input is low, so no comparison can be made
n
with a traditional photovoltaic system.
electrical The removable power, however, is affected by several
mechanical
factors. The drop, while centering fully the piezoelectric
Fig. 1. Equivalent electro-mechanical scheme. film, is not able to transfer maximum energy as it is
subject to the phenomenon of splashing: the collision is
In the mechanical part the inductor Lm represents the not complete since the impact surface are separated some
equivalent mass and the inertia of the piezoelectric small drops. It must therefore associate an efficiency of a
generator, Rm represents the mechanical losses, Cm collision. In the same way we should introduce a
represents the mechanical stiffness, stress generator is performance of the electrical-mechanical system. The
caused by mechanical vibration, n is the transformation drop stresses the piezoelectric according to the 31 mode
ratio of the transformer equivalent, element that relates and not all the energy is converted into charges on the
the physical quantities with those electrical [32]. Ce plates of the transducer. Finally an electrical performance
represents the capacitance of the piezoelectric element coefficient is to be introduced to take into account the
and V is the voltage across the piezoelectric transducer. losses of the rectifying bridge. The output power is given
Electric and mechanical parameters depend on the shape by:
of the piezoelectric transducer. By applying pressure or
Pout = collisionpiezorect Pmax.
torsion on the material, is created inside an electric field
due to the polarization of the material. The application of The output power is certainly reduced, then the objective
force brings the internal lattice structure of the is to maximize it.
piezoelectric element to deform, causing the separation of The transducers on which the experiments were
the centers of molecular gravity, and therefore to the conducted are Mide Volture V22B and V22BL and the
generation of small dipoles, which global effect is taken MEAS LDT1-028K. Volture the sensors were mounted in
into account by modeling the transformer. A sheet of a suitable support, caged to extremes, due to their
piezoelectric material has some limitations in the fragility. The sensor Meas was mounted as a cantilever in
mechanical-electrical transduction for low-frequency a suitable support.

635
primary circuit, with secondary voltage which represents
the voltage on the load of the piezoelectric generator.
By employing the electromechanical model a first
investigation on the shape of the transducer is made:
considering a constant rain drop source of stress (5mm),
the outgoing power is maximized if w=3.3mm and Le=
25-30mm. This result has been tested on PVDF
transducers that have been shaped according to these
directives.

w Lb
b

Le
Lto
Fig. 2. Lead zirconate titanate (PZT) transducers: V22BL in the top and t
V22B in the bottom of the picture.

Fig. 4 Geometrical features of the PVDF transducer.

III. EXPERIMENTAL STUDY


The piezoelectric transducers were exposed to rain and
were measured the voltage values generated by the
impact of the droplets. Roughly some typical generated
waveforms are definable: transducers bound to the both
ends have generated waveforms more regular, in which a
Fig. 3 Meas LDT1-028k polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) transducer. first pulse largest is followed by a second smaller and of
opposite sign, Fig. 5. Sometimes the second pulse has
Fig. 2 and 3 show the piezoelectric transducers. The been followed by a third and sometimes was not present.
PVDF Meas is customable, the PZT Volture has a rigid In some cases we have obtained single negative peaks,
structure and no modification can be introduced. this physical behavior has required a bit more attention
The Meas piezoelectric has been deeply studied and since the physical stress did not change, but it happened
here only a part of the study is reported [33]. The value of to the tension. It was found that the negative peaks of
inductance present in the electromechanical model is: tension occurred in correspondence with a state of
piezoelectric plate already burdened with a water film, as
Lm k1 k2 m,
a result of impact the compression status ranged,
where m is the mass of the raindrop, k1 and k2 are generating a negative peak of voltage.
geometrical coefficient, given by: The voltage levels were maintained with maximum
peaks of 6 V during the different tests.
b 2 Lb  Le 2 L3b The piezoelectric sensor Meas has been used in
k1 k2
2 I b 3b 2 Lb  Le cantilever configuration. An output voltage is represented
, in Fig. 6. The output voltage has an oscillating behavior,
with I(b) is the moment of inertia relative to a due to the presence of an underdamped system. The
homogeneous mass; other quantities are reported in Fig.4. energy of the drop of water is absorbed and then released
A more detailed study on the model will be published to the electrical system in a longer interval than that used
soon, but some important reflections can be reported. In by the Volture transducers.
the first place it is possible to observe that the reduction To characterize the behavior of the transducers were
of the thickness b determines a decrease of the damping carried out some measures by placing a resistive load
factor (it affects also the resistance). The magnitude of connected to the electrodes. Ten measurements for each
this reduction, however, is subjected to a particular load were considered useful. The output parameter of the
constraint, a lower limit determined by the fact that it is experiments is given by the power exchanged during the
necessary to fulfill the requirement of sub-damping impact. This power value is not straightforward to be
model, otherwise, the similar system is no longer able to assessed. It is chosen to bring the voltage pulses, which
represent the physical one. Secondly, it can be stated that assume waveforms, similar to those of Fig. 5 and 6,
the turns ratio n increases with decreasing the thickness equivalent to continuous values, evaluating the areas
of the single layer PVDF and in general is influenced by subtended by the pulse shapes.
the characteristics of the piezoelectric material. It is an
important factor, since it relates the physical tension, of
which it is made similar to that of electricity in the

636
Figure 5 Three signals acquired: the first presents the typical behavior, a large positive pulse followed by a second smaller; the second signal acquired
differs from the first one because of two negative pulses; the third signal acquired presents only positive pulse. The waveform of the signals is often
conditioned by the presence of the water film on the transducers.

5,00E-06
4,50E-06 single PVDF
4,00E-06 two PVDF

3,50E-06

Power (W)
3,00E-06
2,50E-06
2,00E-06
1,50E-06
1,00E-06
5,00E-07
0,00E+00
Fig. 6 Waveform of the voltage given by a PVDF transducer in
cantilever configuration. Oscillations are due to the particular structure.
Load (k)
In Fig. 7 the power extracted from the single drop of Fig. 8 Power extracted from single drop of water using a single
water, in the case of PZT transducers, for to the loads of and a double PVDF transducers.
10, 22, 47, 100, 220, 470 k is represented. The two
transducers have values of comparable powers, this is due An explanation can be given to this behavior: the two
to the fact that both have equal amplitude of piezoelectric drops of water do not affect the transducers
material, while it varies the length of the material which simultaneously, so generating oscillating pulses in delay
constitutes the shell. or with opposing phases, resulting in a reduction of
In Fig. 8 the power extracted from the single drop of voltage at the terminals. The shift to higher load resistors
water, in the case of PVDF transducers, for to the loads of in the position of the maximum, in the case of the two
10, 15, 22, 27, 33, 39, 47, 56, 68, 82, 100, 150, 180, 470 k PVDF in parallel, is attributable to an adaptation of the
is represented. Two cases are studied a single PVDF system to double capacity for constant pulsation of
transducer and two set in parallel. Contrary to what could oscillation. In order to improve the power extractable
be expected maximum values of power are attributable to from a system of two transducers in parallel, a bridge
the case of single piezoelectric and not to the two parallel. rectifier could be used, even if part of the signal
generated by the drop can be absorbed by diodes of the
1,30E-06 bridge (0.6V).
Volture V22B
IV. DISCUSSION
1,10E-06 Volture V22BL
If the energy possessed by raindrops is taken into
Power (W)

account it is clear that it is not possible to compare the


9,00E-07 production of electricity between piezoelectric and
photovoltaic systems. To make the comparison unfair is
7,00E-07 also the cost factor, piezoelectric systems for energy
harvesting are experimental and their cost exceeds the
5,00E-07 equivalent photovoltaic for same harvesting area, this is
especially felt in the case of PZT transducers.
An interesting comparison concerns the materials used:
3,00E-07
PVDF and PZT can be used for the production of energy,
10 22 47 100 220 470
PVDF has a lower cost then PZT, PVDF is not toxic,
Load (k) while PZT is toxic, and PVDF makes available to the
Fig. 7 Power extracted from single drop of water using the PZT electrodes higher power.
transducers.

637
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