Piezoelectric materials: An alternative to batteries

11 January 2022
Basic input-output principle of piezoelectric energy generators. Source: Arveni

Problems with standard batteries

The dramatic decrease in the power consumption and size of sensors has resulted in a concentrated investigation on sources of power that can be used in addition to or in place of batteries. Battery use has always been frowned upon due to the fact that they must be charged prior to use. Likewise, distributed network sensors and data-gathering components need centralized energy sources to operate. Battery charging or replacement options might be expensive or even unfeasible in a few applications, such as sensors for structure health monitoring in remote areas or regionally unavailable humidity or temperature sensors. Replacing batteries can be a time-consuming and costly process in a broad-scale sensor network and in hazardous, hard and broad terrain installations. Embedded sensor networks in metropolitan battlegrounds are an example.

Alternative options

Rationally, the focus in these instances has been on constructing on-site generators capable of converting any source of energy available at that spot to electrical energy. Recent improvements in low-power very large-scale integration circuits have facilitated the creation of ultra-low-power integrated circuits that operate at nano to micro level watts of power. This drive toward scale has paved the way for energy harvesting technologies at chip level, which eliminate the requirement for chemical batteries or intricate cabling for microsensors, laying the groundwork for battery-free automated sensors and networking devices.

An alternative to using a standard battery as a power source is to harness the residual energy found in the surrounding area. Leftover energy is generated by industrial machinery, human activities, cars, structures and environmental sources, all of which can be used to capture small amounts of energy without impacting the source itself. Additionally, energy harvesting can deliver a solution for difficult climatic circumstances that are unsuitable for battery use, such as temperatures above 60° C. Numerous energy harvesting systems at micro, meso and nanoscales have been developed in recent years, including solar, electromagnetic, thermoelectric, capacitive and piezoelectric.

Piezoelectric transducers

Through the use of electromagnetic, piezoelectric and electrostatic transducers, mechanical stress energy can be transformed into electrical energy. However, owing to their high energy density, piezoelectric transducers are regarded as the more desirable option when compared with the other two. In contrast to electrostatic transducers, piezoelectric microelectromechanical systems devices offer numerous benefits:

1. The energy density of piezoelectric materials stays higher even when the film thickness is reduced, leading to device scalability for miniaturization.

2. Piezoelectric actuators operate at low voltages.

3. Increased potential for energy harvesting due to the connection of mechanical and electrical components.

4. It is quite simple to create high-frequency, temperature-stable resonant systems.

Types of piezoelectric materials

The term "piezoelectric material" refers to a category of solid materials that can build an electric charge when mechanical stress is applied. In general, they are classified as inorganic or organic. Piezoelectric ceramics and piezoelectric single crystals are the most frequently used inorganic piezoelectric materials at the moment. And, organic piezoelectric materials primarily include polymers such as polyvinylidene fluoride. Certain organic nanostructures, such as nanowires, nanotubes and nanoparticles have also been observed to exhibit piezoelectric activity.

[Learn more about piezoelectric devices on GlobalSpec]

In addition to these two material classifications, nanostructures with a highly efficient piezoelectric constant are employed in nanoscale for energy harvesting. For harvesting energy at large scale, the greatest material group for piezoelectric devices is piezoelectric ceramics, whereas piezoelectric polymers grow the fastest because of their light weight and compact size. Additionally, piezoelectric single crystals have lower piezoelectric and dielectric constants than piezoelectric ceramics. By comparison, despite its low density and low impedance, the piezoelectric polymer has a low strain constant and piezoelectric constant. When compared to the two materials mentioned above, piezoelectric ceramics possess the following advantages:

1. Higher piezoelectric and dielectric constants.

2. Increased form malleability.

3. The material composition is easily adjusted, which improves the material's prospects.

Performance enhancement

As discussed above, scalability is a significant benefit of piezoelectric materials for harvesting energy. Numerous fabrication processes have been developed to combine sophisticated piezoelectric materials into energy harvesters, consistently improving their output performance. Vibration energy harvesting devices take advantage of piezoelectric materials' capacity to create an electric field when external vibrations and mechanical stimuli are applied. Environmental vibration sources, on the other hand, often have acceleration magnitudes and frequency range lower than those of a piezoelectric energy harvester device’s working mode. Additionally, most vibration-based piezoelectric energy harvester systems generate very little power due to constraints imposed by their input power sources, operational bandwidth and output performance. As a result, boosting performance and expanding operating bandwidth have been two critical and urgent research priorities. Advanced approaches are necessary to optimize their performance and expand the efficient operational frequency range.


Overall, in conjunction with the fast growth of the internet of things (IoT), piezoelectric energy harvester devices provide a number of benefits and prospects for the implementation and advancement of smart homes, cities, health, intelligent transportation and smart agriculture, among other applications. Piezoelectric energy harvesters are a vital and promising solution for the development of a new kind of self-directed self-powered terminal node capable of operating for significantly greater lengths of time without requiring battery charges. Additionally, it can result in price reductions by greatly deferring battery replacement and these energy harvesting technologies can improve the toughness of all IoT systems.

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