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Capstone Project - Harvesting Vehicular Kinetic Energy Using Piezoelectric Sensors
Road pavements sustain numerous times of vehicle passage each day. The kinetic energy of vehicle motion can be captured, harvested, and converted into electricity for decentralized roadway lighting and operation of traffic lights. Application of piezoelectric technology is a promising method to harvest mechanical energy of vehicles which otherwise is dissipated as heat. The primary objective of this capstone project was to design a novel energy harvester using a piezoelectric sensor network to capture the kinetic energy of vehicles and generate electrical current to charge a battery. The team was formed by students with different majors (Mechanical and Electrical Engineering) to work on a cross-disciplinary research project. Specifically, the project's goal was to build a ramp-device consisting of 50 piezoelectric sensors to charge a 3V, 1 milliampere-hour coin cell battery. This device would be charged using a 700 lb motorcycle to induce the pressure onto the sensors to charge the battery. Industry standards to consider included the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) regarding the use of piezoelectric sensors. Students were asked to compare alternative designs considering the overall shape and size of the harvester, roadway placement, and the arrangement of internal components to amplify the vibration needed to charge the piezoelectric sensors. The present contribution outlines the design process based on a feasibility and merit analysis. Discussion includes social, technical, and economic challenges of using piezoelectric technology and its integration with transportation infrastructure to generate electricity. A concluding section presents student learning experiences and proposed solutions to improve the performance of the harvester by the next group of students.