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FAST and Nano-Enabled SMART Materials, Structures and Systems for Energy Harvesting

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FAST-SMART (FAST and Nano-Enabled SMART Materials, Structures and Systems for Energy Harvesting)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2021-09-30

Using ambient energy that would otherwise be lost such as heat, light or sound, energy harvesting is well known for its applications in solar cells. Moreover, the technology has numerous new innovative uses, thanks to recent digital trends, including the Internet of Things. The wider implementation of energy-harvesting technologies hinges on the availability of reliable materials that can be recycled and are based on earth-abundant elements as well as on efficient manufacturing processes. The overall goal of the EU-funded FAST-SMART project is to apply novel manufacturing techniques on a large scale which are recently developed by project members for synthesising smart nanomaterials for energy harvesting. The development of piezoelectric (PE) and thermoelectric (TE) materials using earth-abundant elements and highly efficient synthesis/manufacturing processes is expected to enhance material-supply resilience, reduce impacts on the environment, improve processing efficiency and reduce overall material costs.
During the first project period, the consortium has updated its technological development strategy, based on the updated information on the user needs and market opportunities. To better guide the project’s developments in materials, manufacturing and harvester designs, the consortium has performed first life-cycle analysis and life-cycle cost analysis on the benchmark smart-materials and energy harvesters. These generated useful information on the key factors to be taken into account as well as further opportunities for the project to improve its design and development works relating to the PE and TE materials and energy harvesters being developed.

The focus of this period is also on the upscaling of material synthesis facilities with a view to upscaling the existing lab. processes in synthesis of PE and TE materials proposed. Using the facilities upgraded initially, the 1st batch of lead-free piezo-electric materials (BCZT) has been produced through the Hydrothermal synthesis, Silicide and Hf-Free Half Heusler thermoelectrical materials through High Energy Ball Milling, and CVD coating of Magnesium silicide (MgSi) on Carbon nanotube (CNT) thermoelectric nanofibers (flexible thermoelectric materials). These have been subjected to first testing and characterisation, forming a basis for the next-stage improvement of those materials for energy harvesting applications.

Further significant development is the machine design for mass production of PE and TE parts and modules through electrical-field-activated sintering and module assembly, targeting short processing time, material nano-structure preservation, automated production and lower manufacturing cost. The 1st sintering trails on the newly produced powder have also been conducted. To assist in the part manufacturing and assembly, trials on the treatments of thermoelectric elements to improve its efficiency (ZT value) through high ion-current-density magnetron sputtering, treatments of these elements by nanocomposite and PVD CrSi/CrSi(O) coatings for easier assembly, have also been conducted.

To demonstrate the applications of smart materials and structures, three kinds of energy harvesters are being developed, namely: Nonlinear structure piezoelectric energy harvesters, Smart hybrid solar panels, and Thermoelectric energy harvesters for hybrid automobiles. During the 1st project period, design of three energy harvesters has been completed, preliminary prototypes have been built, initial tests, characterisations and validations carried out. The design optimisation and prototype enhancements are being undertaken.

At the same time, the strategy of design for recycling for developing energy harvesters has been developed, and the strategy for recycling thermo-electrical materials has also been developed. A method for recycling End-of-Life TE parts to powder has been tried and the processing parameters are being optimised.
Besides continuing making progress in the project, FAST-SMART consortium has a continuous road mapping activity during the project life to monitor the state of the art of the scientific and technological developments and applications in the fields relevant to the project, which is to ensure, by the end of the project, our progress is still beyond the state of the art in both smart materials, structures and systems for energy harvesting applications.

Technologically, the consortium will demonstrate new material technologies and new energy harvesting technology towards more reliable and low-cost applications. Technological barriers identified for RE-free energy harvesting materials and product manufacturing and implementation as well as reducing manufacturing cost will be overcome by the proposed developments, which will represent a significant technological advance in this field.

Scientifically, the consortium will develop further understandings of: (i). fundamentals concerning materials synthesis for lead-free Piezoelectric (PE) materials and Hf-free half-heusler alloy Thermoelectric (TE) materials; (ii). mechanisms of FAST sintering of PE/TE nano-materials and structures; (iii). effects of nano-structured superlattice films, graphene or graphene oxide coating and PVD CrSi/CrSi(O) coatings on TE module performance and processing efficiency; and (iv). mechanical-electrical and thermo-electrical dynamics properties of energy harvesting devices. These will lead to enhancement to the existing theory in the relevant fields.

Socially and economically, the FAST-SAMRT’s developments have great innovation potential, exampled by its high-quality and low-cost materials, high-efficiency micro-manufacturing processes and novel and robust energy harvesting products. The market perspectives concerning relevant materials, manufacturing services and products, are also high, which could lead to significant economic gains for its participants and future collaborators. Due to the development of more robust, flexible, efficient and low-cost energy harvesting technology and products directly applicable to IoT/DSM related uses, being supported by a series of enabling technologies and manufacturing facilities, it is expected that the FAST-SMART’s effort will help to speed up applications of networked wireless sensors nodes in Europe in almost all the sectors and domestic uses for a wide range of purposes, ranging from transport system monitoring, natural disaster warning, through factory/building management, to domestic energy provision and personal travelling, etc. At the same time, the deployment of the new materials, highly efficient processing technologies and energy harvesting devices would also lead to significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and reduction of hazardous wastes in relation to the sustainable energy supplies.
Piezo harvester
Hybrid powertrain test rig for TE harvesting test