Ater yesterday, here is another story about using plastics as a power source. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are using ionic polymers immersed in a river to generate 'clean' electricity for the city of Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. If the project is successful, the city's downtown 'could one day get 20 percent or more of its electrical power from a mile-long array of tiny plastic devices wiggling away on the bottom of the Kiskiminetas River as it sweeps around the town.' Even if the scientific angle of the story is interesting, the fact that the idea for this project started at a city improvement program instead of a lab is fascinating. But read more...
You can see above how will work a eco-friendly hydrokinetic energy harvest device for future usages in a fast flowing river. "The development is performed in coordination with the town of Vandergrift, PA. The people of Vandergrift not only enable access to the river for prototype testing, but are also actively involved in the design process to insure that the ultimate device meets their expectations for maintaining the beauty and accessibility of their local river -- the 'Kiski'." (Credit: University of Pittsburgh) You'll find a larger version of this image -- and a longer description -- on this page.
This project is led by Lisa Mauck Weiland, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who is directing the development of the Mechanics of Active Materials Laboratory of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Besides this project, she's heading other research programs.
For example, the DARPA-sponsored "Light Activated Shape Memory Polymer" is about "Materials with Optically-Controllable Mechanical Properties" and is being done in collaboration with the Advanced Materials division of the Cornerstone Research Group.
Now, let's return to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article mentioned above for more details. "Ionic polymers, already used as sensors, have the ability to dynamically generate current when they move, and Dr. Weiland and her engineering students are now trying to figure out the best size, shape and array of the plastics to put in the Kiski River sometime in the next five years. Once the array goes in on the riverbed, she said, 'if you were able to look at it, you would just see a bunch of little things wiggling. It wouldn't look that different from a bunch of plant life.' Cables from the array might then connect to the town's power grid at different spots along the bank."
Here is another quote from this article. "By working with Vandergrift's citizens on conserving energy and developing clean technologies like solar power, she said it's conceivable Downtown could one day function without using any fossil fuels. The residents' creativity and ideas will be crucial to the effort, she said, because even though 'technology is going to have a very important role to play, technology alone is not going to come to the rescue. It took all of us to make this mess and it will take all of us to clean it up.'"
So let's look at these Vandergrift's citizens actions and at their Vandergrift Improvement Program (VIP), partially funded by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. More specifically, you should read "The Greening of Vandergrift" (Cara J. Hayden, Pitt Magazine, University of Pittsburgh, Winter 2008) to discover how an idea from a citizen group initiated a university research project.
Lisa Weiland has been involved in this project since the summer of 2006. "The results showed that the Kiskiminetas River, or the Kiski, as locals call the waterway, was a significant untapped natural energy resource for the town. There also was a knowledge gap, says Weiland, about how best to harness that resource. She recognized that the situation presented a rare opportunity to close that gap by developing new sustainable-energy technology, which would likely have applications far beyond Vandergrift. So she encouraged the revival of Pitt's student chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), a national organization that promotes community-oriented engineering projects. Before long, the students' electric energy team -- officially known as the Hydrokinetic Energy Harvesting Team -- was on its way to Vandergrift."
So, "with Weiland's guidance and seed funding from MSI and the Heinz Foundation, the students are now working with Vandergrift residents to harness the Kiski River's energy in innovative ways while also reducing the town's energy consumption."
Finally, this research work has been submitted for review to the Journal of Applied Mechanicsunder the title "Light Activated Shape Memory Polymer (LASMP) Characterization." I hope this paper will be accepted by this scientific publication, but it's not currently available online.
Sources: Mark Roth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 28, 2008; and various websites
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