If there is a company that is finding every possible way to convert one type of energy form into electricity than that is Boeing. It has invented a way to convert airport noise to electricity using acoustic collector which is a conversion of sound energy into electrical.
Now Boeing is repeating the history. In one of patent applications published last week, of course, filed by Boeing, I found one patent that discloses a way to generate electricity in a flying aircraft by using piezoelectric sensors.
One thing I admire from this patent application is the creativity and resourcefulness of engineers of Boeing where existing things are clubbed together to find a solution.
Before I go ahead with discussing how the invention works, let’s first discuss what could have poked Boeing to find such a solution.
Spacers, fillers and Li-Ion Batteries
In aircraft, spacers (shims) and fillers are used at structural joints – between the wing and body, for example. These are made of aluminum or composites that provide a level surface or fill the gaps between two parts.
There uses to be a lot of joints and gaps to cover in an aircraft and hence the shims. They, thus, add a considerable weight to the body of aircraft and affect its performance without giving any additional benefit.
Another issue is of heavy Li-Ion batteries that an aircraft carries for supplying electricity to various devices. Before a flight, these batteries are charged and also their weight affects the performance as well.
Not only this, Li-ion batteries pose another set of challenges. In 2013, these batteries were the reason why entire Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet was grounded. First time since 1979, a U.S. commercial airplane fleet was grounded.
And the invention disclosed in this patent has potential to solve both these issues!!
Using Piezoelectric Material in Spacer and Fillers of Aircraft to Generate Electricity
The patent mentions replacing aluminum or composite of spacers and filler with a piezoelectric material. You may be wondering how that helps generate electricity? Let me help you understand.
Piezoelectricity literally stands for pressing electricity. That is, electricity that gets generated due to pressing. If you press a piezoelectric material or apply some pressure by one mean or another, it generates electricity.
Hence, if we use piezoelectric material in spacer and filler that undergo pressure during different time in a flight, we can convert that pressure into electricity. And this is what engineers at Boeing have proposed in the patent.
These spacers and filler will harvest energy during a flight which will either be used to re-charge Li-ion batteries or may be supplied for use in an aircraft.
If the electricity gets used in recharging batteries onboard, aircraft may fly with smaller sized batteries. Also, the hassle of frequently recharging these batteries will not be there.
For my nerdy friends: Non-resonant piezoelectric material will be used in parts of aircraft that get subjected to static load while a resonant piezoelectric material will be used in parts that get subjected to a dynamic load. You can read about aircraft loads from here.
(Disclaimer: This is a guest post submitted on Techstory by the mentioned authors.All the contents and images in the article have been provided to Techstory by the authors of the article. Techstory is not responsible or liable for any content in this article.)