Noise to Electricity
As our civilization becomes more and more dependent on technology, it’s evident that our power consumption is going to go up. In our environmentally-conscious mindset, finding alternative power sources that are cheaper, more reliable, and less polluting than fossil fuel-based power generators is a high priority task. It’s the progressive jackpot of modern energy.
Clean power sources, like Solar and Wind, are pretty environmentally safe, but are dependent on the (unreliable) weather. Since their output will be different day to day, grid stability is thrown out the window. Grid Stability is the idea that the Electrical Demand has to match the Electrical Production- too little production, and you have blackouts. Too much, and things start to explode.
Nuclear Reactors are stable and clean with reliable power generation but are incredibly expensive, and a systems failure can be catastrophic. Perhaps some more creative solutions are required?
A team of students in the Philippines, from the Philippine Science High School West Visayas Campus (and ain’t that a mouthful?), created an inexpensive device that converts ambient noise into electricity. Now, this isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea. We’ve been doing the opposite in speakers for decades.
These eleventh graders created a device that, when hit by sound, uses magnets and coils to generate electricity. Their prototype device only costs about 200 Pesos, which converts to just about four (!) US dollars. As it is, the device only produces a tiny amount of electricity.
However, the inventors (who I should probably mention, are Kirsten Dianne Delmo, Nico Andrei Serrato, Joecile Faith Monana, Frelean Faith Engallado, and Raphael Francis Dequilla) say that the device can be scaled up for use around, say, airports.
Pros / Cons
Now, from a purely engineering perspective, you still run into the problems that come with typical clean energy alternatives- grid stability. Or lack thereof. The ambient noise is a variable. If such a device is scaled up and placed near an airport, the output of the device will spike when airplanes take off and land, but drop when the runway’s clear.
However, it seems to me that the student’s device comes with a singular advantage; it’s not dependent on the weather! Solar Panels only work during the day, in sunny locations. Wind turbines only work in large fields or the ocean, when it’s windy. However, noise is more dependent on human behavior than anything else. A noise generation device will work all the time, in say, New York, the city that never sleeps.
Even in third world, developing countries where noise is almost ubiquitous with urban areas, noise as a whole is constant. So power will always be generated, even if the quantity of said power is variable.
Genius or Gimmick?
So, what does this mean for the future of such technology? It depends. I wish these students great success in their endeavors, and hopefully, when the device is scaled up, the power it generates makes it cost-effective. That’s always the deciding factor. Does the power output override the cost of making the generator?
This aspect of the design is often the downfall of many creative alternatives to power. It’s currently the main problem with Nuclear Fusion (although great strides are being made to improve the tech).
However, like with any new technology, the only way to know for certain is good testing. The idea to invert a speaker is a great idea on its own- it’s creative, cheap, and certainly not a polluter. It’s got the advantage of not being as random or arbitrary with its power output than other electronic alternatives. Will this technology become mainstream, becoming a power supplicant for homes and cities?
Only time will tell.