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Earth Power Hardware Technology

Piezo Crystals Harness Sound To Generate Hydrogen 187

Posted by timothy
from the what's-shakin'? dept.
MikeChino writes "Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered that a mix of zinc oxide crystals, water, and noise pollution can efficiently produce hydrogen without the need for a dirty catalyst like oil. To generate the clean hydrogen, researchers produced a new type of zinc oxide crystals that absorb vibrations when placed in water. The vibrations cause the crystals to develop areas with strong positive and negative charges — a reaction that rips the surrounding water molecules and releases hydrogen and oxygen. The mechanism, dubbed the piezoelectrochemical effect, converts 18% of energy from vibrations into hydrogen gas (compared to 10% from conventional piezoelectric materials), and since any vibration can produce the effect, the system could one day be used to generate power from anything that produces noise — cars whizzing by on the highway, crashing waves in the ocean, or planes landing at an airport."
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Piezo Crystals Harness Sound To Generate Hydrogen

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  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:15PM (#31531620)
    But can it produce enough electricity to power a small radio that plays the music used to create the vibrations necessary to produce the electricity?
    • by sackvillian (1476885) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:23PM (#31531670)

      But can it produce enough electricity to power a small radio that plays the music used to create the vibrations necessary to produce the electricity?

      No.

      Sincerely yours,

      The Second Law of Thermodynamics

      • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:48PM (#31531852)

        No.

        Sincerely yours,

        The Second Law of Thermodynamics

        But isn't the First Law of Thermodynamics to never talk about the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Arancaytar (966377)

        Actually, that depends on what you do with the hydrogen. If you re-oxidize it by combustion, obviously no energy will come out.

        If you fuse it into Helium, you've got free energy until you run out of water.

        • by Jenming (37265)

          Sure, but current fusion technology still has a ways to go before we can start using it for electricity.

      • by numbski (515011)

        What part of 18% did you not understand? :P

        • The air to water transition is a huge impedance change. so most sound will be reflected not transmitted into the water. Second Since they are talking about 18% of the absorbed energy being converted and not 18% of the incident energy, even once it gets into the water most of the incident energy is probably reflected or absorbed in the water itself.

          Unless they have already taken these into account it seems like the conversion rate of air acoustic energy to hydrogen energy must be in the fraction of a perce

      • by toastar (573882)

        But can it produce enough electricity to power a small radio that plays the music used to create the vibrations necessary to produce the electricity?

        No.

        Sincerely yours,

        The Second Law of Thermodynamics

        Not if you take into to count the power of Dance!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by FatdogHaiku (978357)

      But can it produce enough electricity to power a small radio that plays the music used to create the vibrations necessary to produce the electricity?

      Only if you are willing to listen to Barry White all the time...
      You'll never find,
      another vibe like mine,
      to shake those crystals,
      the way I do...

      • by Bemopolis (698691)

        Only if you are willing to listen to Barry White all the time...

        "You'll Never Find" was sung by Lou Rawls, not Barry White. And now they're both dead. I HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY NOW!

        • Well, that's what they get for commingling their music on the album "The Walrus of Love".
          Jeez, EVERYBODY knows you shouldn't cross the streams...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thrawn_aj (1073100)

      But can it produce enough electricity to power a small radio that plays the music used to create the vibrations necessary to produce the electricity?

      Am I missing something here? The summary clearly states - "any vibration can produce the effect, the system could one day be used to generate power from anything that produces noise — cars whizzing by on the highway, crashing waves in the ocean, or planes landing at an airport". Even if the conversion efficiency was MUCH less than it is (18% fta), it would still be worth it since you're using sound energy that is wasted anyway. It would be inefficient in principle but HUGELY efficient in practice sinc

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Your absolutely right, you're just getting bogged down with the pedantic ramblings of the Slashdot crowd.

        They're joking and arguing about a perpetual motion machine, nothing to do with reality...

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Jedi Alec (258881)

        It would be inefficient in principle but HUGELY efficient in practice since it would be using energy that is otherwise WASTED.

        Even better, in many cases said noise is undesirable and needs to be blocked or deflected as it is. Using it to generate hydrogen instead = win/win?

      • by jbengt (874751)
        Do you (or anyone else in this thread) realize just how little energy is in noise, from which this crystal can only extract 18% at best, and that a large percentage of the noise will radiate in directions that don't pass through the crystals, let alone be absorbed by them?
        • by Anomalyst (742352)
          What gives you the right to bring logic and reason to a /. discussion?
          You must be new here.
        • Do you (or anyone else in this thread) realize just how little energy is in noise, from which this crystal can only extract 18% at best, and that a large percentage of the noise will radiate in directions that don't pass through the crystals, let alone be absorbed by them?

          I say it again, It would be inefficient in principle but HUGELY efficient in practice since it would be using energy that is otherwise WASTED. In this case, your argument is irrelevant since it is simply NOT about how much of the sound energy is radiated in other directions. So what if it does? It would done so anyway - that's the default situation. We're not hiring gnomes to produce the noise for this system - the noise occurs naturally. If you can harvest a fraction of it, it's still worth it. The questio

    • Sure it can if you tune it in to Spamradio.com!
    • I'd like PiezoAnalogyGuy to chime in on this topic.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Thanks for the laugh! Even if there was no 2nd law*, you wouldn't need it. Put this thing on the seashore and there's plenty of noise AND water.

      A kind of related question for slashdotters better at math and physics than me - if you plug a potato [wikipedia.org] into a glass of water, how much hydrogen could you produce? How powerful would a potato bomb be?

      * The second law of thermodynamics sayss that the entropy of an isolated macroscopic system never decreases, or (equivalently) that perpetual motion machines are impossib

  • But Mom... (Score:5, Funny)

    by voss (52565) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:15PM (#31531626)

    "If we dont play it at full volume we wont be able to save the enviroment!" ;-)

  • Cost Effective? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rmushkatblat (1690080)
    Is this cheap?

    If not, can this be made cheap?

    Also, how much can this be scaled up?

  • Thermodynamics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sarten-X (1102295) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:24PM (#31531676) Homepage
    It sounds (no pun intended) like this material would have to absorb energy from the sound wave. I wonder how well it would work as an acoustic barrier bordering a highway. It'd be refilled by rain, powered by noise, and it might just block the sound better than those lovely concrete walls we have now.
    • Re:Thermodynamics (Score:4, Interesting)

      by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe AT jwsmythe DOT com> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:47PM (#31531838) Homepage Journal

          The #1 problem here would be.....

          If you had an infrastructure where highway barriers were full of water, generating a perfectly combustion mixture (like, not just good, but perfect) flowing into pipes, which would (obviously) need to be somewhere close to the road. If they are elevated, they run a risk of contact with a vehicle, or flames from an accident. I've seen bridges melt from accidents under them. Below the road, the gases rising create an extreme explosion hazard at ground level. One cigarette butt thrown out a window, and you could have an entire highway explode.

          Anywhere around a highway is a potential heavy impact and fire hazard. If you watch the news, you'll see the "freak" accidents where cars leave the road and end up in houses or other buildings, or burst into flames for various reasons. Anyone who's worked for a while as in the emergency response industry (police, fire, paramedics) have seen vehicles on their roof. Thousands of pounds of pressure may break a pesky hydrogen pipeline.

          I'm not against it though, it sounds like an interesting idea, although not a solution. If cars were powered by hydrogen instead of gasoline, and the noise on highways produced hydrogen to power them, the evil laws of thermodynamics jump in and say "don't get your hopes up."

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664)

        Using some of that energy that being absorbed by the sound barrier sounds fine, even if that cars run on hydrogen. You are not going to be breaking the laws of thermodynamics, but if you get a better sound barrier with free hydrogen to boot, why not?

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          I agree. Some, but not all, would be recovered. Folks will get anxious if they aren't reminded.

          I'd worry more about the tremendous explosion risk. The farther away from the road, the less effective it would be. But, the closer you put it to the road, the larger risk it becomes. Being that not all accidents happen *on* the road, it's a huge risk. Beyond the mentions above, in one community I lived in, there was a nice car-sized hole in the concrete wall. It was down th

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by h4rr4r (612664)

            Seems like the actual barrier could be near the road with some guard rails in front of it and the rain reservoir quite far away. Reducing the risks somewhat. Besides the news networks would love this.

            • by JWSmythe (446288)

              Well, you do have a valid point there. There's nothing better for the ratings that big explosions and body parts strewn along the roads.

              I'd hate to be on the cleanup crew when there's an accident on I-95 or I-10, and the explosion blows cars off the road for miles. I'd think it would be cost prohibitive to have flashback arrestors every few feet.

              Something like this [www.cbc.ca] would have been more catastrophic if a hydrogen/oxygen filled line was anywhere near it.

      • by shermo (1284310)

        I might be missing something, but we don't we just make the cars quieter?

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)
        ...Hindenburg Highway?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by JWSmythe (446288)

              I can just see the headlines now. "1,000 dead as 1 mile of I-900 explodes into flames."

      • by hipp5 (1635263)

        you could have an entire highway explode.

        That would be AWESOME. Wait, I mean... oh the humanity.

      • Re:Thermodynamics (Score:5, Insightful)

        by KahabutDieDrake (1515139) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @11:01PM (#31532744)
        Before you start throwing around the fud, maybe you should check a few pesky facts. Lets start with current cars. Pretty much 4 wheels a cabin, an engine and big ass tank of flammable liquid with a low ignition point and a high explosive rating due to vapors. It's fuel air mixture is also fairly wide. To compare, we have hydrogen gas... Which has a narrow fuel air mix, a high ignition point, and which is lighter than air. So now we imagine a freeway with a wall on either side. The wall is an aquarium with crystals and a piping system to extract the hydrogen into the grid. Now, your car, which is a finely tuned BOMB ruptures the wall, breaking the aquarium and the gas lines. What happens? The water pours out, probably retarding any fire your car started, and the hydrogen goes straight up and dissipates harmlessly. Most likely, you never had a fuel air mix capable of igniting the hydrogen.

        Liquid fuel used in automobiles is about as volatile as anything gets (at least in public spaces). Ng, Hydrogen and other compressed gasses are considerably safer. They dissipate quickly, require fairly small windows for ignition, and most of them require significantly more spark to fire up in the first place.
        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          Consider what was suggested.

          The crystals would break down water. It releases hydrogen, sure. What do you think happens to the oxygen? It's in the same mixture. It's actually a very wonderful mixture, since it is broken down from a very happy molecule. I ran a torch on pure gases from electrolysis. It makes a nice hot and virtually invisible flame. That's a hint that it's a great mixture. Sure, the gases would rise, but it's rising from a pipe of some sort. If the barric

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by drinkypoo (153816)

            What do you think happens to the oxygen? It's in the same mixture.

            You throw away the Oxygen as it is created. When the hydrogen is combusted eventually, oxygen will be taken from the air for the purpose.

        • Re:Thermodynamics (Score:5, Informative)

          by WalksOnDirt (704461) on Friday March 19, 2010 @01:30AM (#31533480)

          hydrogen gas... Which has a narrow fuel air mix

          I don't think so.

          Flammability Concentration Limits [engineeringtoolbox.com]
          Hydrogen 4% to 75%
          Gasoline 1.4% to 7.6%

          The auto-ignition temperature [engineeringtoolbox.com] is indeed higher for hydrogen, 500 Celsius compared to 280 for gasoline. I had not known that.

          • by twisteddk (201366)

            I dont get why you guys are discussing the possiblity of a hydrogen burn/explosion. This would only happen if the hydrogen is stored, and then only if it gets stored in large amounts. At the infinitessimal amounts that appears to be released during this process, it makes no sense to even try to store it beyond what makes for an efficient amount to bother igniting it. Storing hydrogen is impractical at best, and as hydrogen has the smallest possible atomic structure, it can pretty much escape any container,

          • Errr... well, crap. As you pointed out, hydrogen is kinda nasty stuff. Still, being lighter than air, it rather quickly dissipates, which is really the main safety feature at work in this scenario.
      • Actually, the #1 problem here would be that it would be disgustingly expensive, an ineffective sound barrier and an inefficient energy source.

        To start with, lining the highway with any kind of fancy tech would be fabulously expensive. Maybe you could install parabolic concentrators to reduce the cost, but it would still be impractical this side of Dubai.

        Second, consider how loud a speaker with a few watts of power, compared to a nearby highway. Truck rumblings will probably hit the wall with something on

        • by mforbes (575538)
          Yes, but this also means that the poor (at least in the US) would finally have a leg up on the rest of us. Where else can you most often find people blasting their car stereos at 125db and vibrating every window in a 2km radius, but in the slums? (Trust me on this one. I live in a not-well-to-do neighborhood, and am seriously considering building a device to hit those jerks with EMPs.)
      • Below the road, the gases rising create an extreme explosion hazard at ground level. One cigarette butt thrown out a window, and you could have an entire highway explode.

        That's only a problem with gasses that are heavier than air, like gasoline fumes, etc. Hydrogen is lighter than air, so would float up and not pool on the road surface

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        That's a great idea! Let's put them along all the California highways!

    • You couldn’t use rain, since it wouldn’t be clean enough. And any dirtiness would attach to the crystals, until the thing stops working.

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Actually, due to an echo chamber effect, it probably would work better.

      However, the application which immediately sprung to mind for me was: use it with waterfalls. Not only would it be continual and mostly consistent power generation (with a replenished water source), but it could be used to supplement existing hydroelectric power plants (dams).

      (I didn't read the article, but does this device require non-pure water - ie one with an electrolyte - to assist in the splitting? If it did not, it would be signif

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:25PM (#31531678)

    Can be used as noise insulation. There might be some drawback to building walls serving as giant water tanks, but the upside is that living next to the freeway might actually have some benefits.

  • by cobryce (594622) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:29PM (#31531716)
    The next time you see someone screaming at their car on the side of the road, they might just be fueling up ;)
  • Too little energy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RobinEggs (1453925) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:36PM (#31531760)
    I could be wrong, but I thought sound waves moving through air carried a surprisingly small amount of energy. When it comes with tangible vibrations, waves so strong they pulsed through the ground and other solids to reach you, the net effect might create significant amounts of energy, but just loud noises probably wouldn't give you much in the energy department, especially at 18% yield.
    • by HEbGb (6544)

      You're correct. There is far too little energy available from sound waves to be useful.

  • Wall linings (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Trogre (513942) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:53PM (#31531888) Homepage

    If these can be manufactured cheaply enough, I imagine boards of this being made and marketed by Gib for any place where you want soundproofing or a room with 'dead' acoustics.

  • Any vibrations? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DirtySouthAfrican (984664) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:12PM (#31531994) Homepage
    Maxwell's demon anyone?
    • by IICV (652597)

      Maxwell's Demon is impossible because it is 100% efficient. This thing is 18% efficient, which is entirely believable.

  • by ZonkerWilliam (953437) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:17PM (#31532016) Journal
    Compared to normal electrolysis of water?
    • by crazybit (918023) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:28PM (#31532088)
      In this discovery they use sound waves to get hydrogen (which you can later use to make electricity or move cars). Sound waves are being generated all over nature as a natural left over of different processes. On the other hand electrolysis requires electricity, which has a cost in our modern economy.

      You should measure not only the efficiency, but the total cost of energy generation.
      • by pclminion (145572)

        Sound waves are being generated all over nature as a natural left over of different processes.

        Sorry, but sound fucking sucks as an energy source. Take an 90 dB noise for instance, which is rather loud. What power does that noise deliver to a square meter of area? About 1 milliwatt.

        It's interesting that they got the efficiency as high as they did, but even if it was 100% efficient, 1 milliwatt per square meter just absolutely blows. It's a waste of time.

  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@b[ ].org ['eau' in gap]> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:52PM (#31532268)

    So this was the best Slashdot could come up with for this weeks Green Energy Hype of the Week? Guess it was a slow week because this one is lamer than most.

    Ok, ASSuming they can figure out a way to separate the H and O before they just combine again. ASSume this tech actually works outside the lab and can be scaled up. ASSume it performs as advertised when scaled up. 18% conversion efficiency on sound waves? Sound doesn't carry a lot of energy to begin with and they will harvest 18% of it before losses in compressing the H. Oh wow, if we ran this stuff down a mile of busy highway we MIGHT generate enough energy to push one crappy green gocart/car down that highway every day.

    And that is the problem with most alternative energy schemes, they depend on ignorant people who don't know how the world works. There are LOTS of ways to extract energy from nature. The problem is that there aren't many that can compete with the existing sources because they are just so darned good, which was why we standardized on them in the first place. And if we actually do find a new good source, once scaled up it is a veritable certainty that we will discover that it too isn't a free lunch and that it also has a downside somewhere. And the second certainty is that the Greenies will be working to ban it because if it actually works it won't be alternative anymore. Kinda like music, when that great alternative/undergound band signs a contract and releases a hit most of their original fans declare them 'sellouts' and glom onto the newest unheard of band.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hipp5 (1635263)
      So wait, our current energy sources are so good and new ones might have problems so we should never try to innovate?
      • by c6gunner (950153)

        So wait, our current energy sources are so good and new ones might have problems so we should never try to innovate?

        No, just don't get over-excited about every new thing, without first looking at the costs and benefits. To use an analogy - if you're walking down the street with your girlfriend, it might not be a good idea to yell "boobies!" and run after every woman you see. Sure, you might get lucky now and then, but 99% of the time you're going to be disappointed.

      • I think what jmorris42 is trying to say is that his politics prevent him from enjoying science anymore, and it's not fair that the rest of us still get to find these things intriguing (even though they, like every next-big-thing, might not pan out).

        At least that's what I heard...

        I mean, come on, this is an article about how to use zinc oxide crystals and excess noise to create hydrogen. The way he's reacting, it's as if a hippie drum circle invaded his backyard and started shouting about cars that ru
  • Yada yada yada (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Orleron (835910)
    ....another genuinely cool technology that we'll never see in widespread use.
  • by Genda (560240) <mariet.got@net> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @10:26PM (#31532516) Journal

    My question is this "If you're producing Hydrogen... aren't you also producing Oxygen at the very same time?" So here you are creating a combustible gas mixture in a stiochiometrically perfect balance to go BOOM-POW!!! The gases are created together, you can't easily separate them. You need to pump this straight into a combustion chamber or fuel cell, because it's ready, willing, and able to off the instant it's created. It cannot be transported anywhere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ScrewMaster (602015)

      My question is this "If you're producing Hydrogen... aren't you also producing Oxygen at the very same time?"

      Yes. What you're really getting is so-called Brown's Gas, an oxy-hydrogen mixture. In conventional electrolysis you get the two gases produced at discrete electrodes, so it's easy to keep them physically separate.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilWurst (96042)

      > The gases are created together, you can't easily separate them.

      H2 quickly rises. O2 slowly sinks (air is ~78% N2, and O2 is slightly heavier than N2).

      So you build your water tank to have a lot of space above its "fill to here" line, and you put a long, thin, vertical tube out the top. Let the process go naturally until you trip a pressure gauge, at which point you bleed pure H2 from a valve at the top and almost-pure O2 from a valve at the bottom. You should get twice as much H2 as O2, of course (2 H20

    • IIRC, if you're using direct current, hydrogen and oxygen are produced at opposite ends of the wire. So separating them is automatic.

  • Amazing Tech (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thePig (964303) <.rajmohan_h. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @10:37PM (#31532584) Journal

    This is such a beautiful idea.
    Beautiful beautiful idea.
    I will never think of something like this.
    I do not care whether it is possible to generate energy efficiently or not - this is a really really cool tech.

  • Here's an Idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    While this of course wouldn't be effective as a primary generative source, it could be very useful as a secondary income/efficiency improvement. Some current examples similar situations are 1 - Sugar Beet Processors: They use the dried leftovers from the plants to power the plant for processing sugar beets, somewhere in Hawaii they used to generate all of the electricity for the community from the excess power at the sugar beet plant. 2 - Dairy farm Power: Some larger dairies these days actually use the m

  • by ibsteve2u (1184603) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @10:54PM (#31532706)
    Women with their "silent-but-deadlies" won't get as good gas mileage as men.
  • 18% efficiency at converting Water to Hydrogen and Oxygen through sound doesn't sound very practical, efficient or useful. You would need to be in an environment with a LOT of sound, and that needed hydrogen. I can't think of many places like that.
  • can efficiently produce hydrogen without the need for a dirty catalyst like oil.

    Whoever wrote this needs to hand in their geek card for not understanding the word "catalyst".

    If we could, somehow, produce hydrogen in a reaction catalyzed by oil, our energy problems would be solved.

  • We need to get this installed in the houses of parliament -- get something useful back for our money.
  • by sunking2 (521698) on Friday March 19, 2010 @07:55AM (#31535096)
    As anyone who has been on the Hoover dam tour can attest the generator room is noisy as hell and because of locality to the grid would seemingly be an ideal place. But compared to the whole, how much power could a fuel cell really produce out of it? Is it really worth it?
  • So Rock and Metal bands can illuminate their concerts by playing louder? Niiicee
    Also think the soccer / football matches, the louder the fans, the brighter the field.

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