Engineers have figured how to harvest energy from sound; a neat physics trick that could soon lead to quieter jet engines, heavy construction equipment and factory machines, and perhaps a new way to generate wind power.
Separate teams of investigators have developed prototype devices that create small amounts of energy, just enough to run sensors inside noisy places. These sensors can then be used to actually dampen the sound of the noise itself, according to Stephen Horowitz, a research engineer at Ducommun Miltec, an aerospace contractor based in Huntsville, Ala.
Horowitz said he began looking at the problem a decade ago while a student at the University of Florida. "We were looking at engine liners and noise reduction technologies to quiet engines," Horowitz said. "We began looking at the fact that there is a lot of acoustic energy in that environment."
Over time, Horowitz and his colleagues realized the incredible roar of the jet engine, which revs at more than 130 decibels (enough to induce pain) could be changed into electrical energy. Horowitz and his graduate advisor professor Mark Sheplak did this with something called piezoelectrics. Piezoelectric material takes the stress and strain of mechanical motions -- like bending of wires or pushing down on a pad, for example -- and turns it into an electrical charge.