Nanostructured piezoelectric materials for the design and development of self-sensing composite materials and energy harvesting devices

Abstract

The work activities reported in this PhD thesis regard the functionalization of composite materials and the realization of energy harvesting devices by using nanostructured piezoelectric materials, which can be integrated in the composite without affecting its mechanical properties. The self-sensing composite materials were fabricated by interleaving between the plies of the laminate the piezoelectric elements. The problem of negatively impacting on the mechanical properties of the hosting structure was addressed by shaping the piezoelectric materials in appropriate ways. In the case of polymeric piezoelectric materials, the electrospinning technique allowed to produce highly-porous nanofibrous membranes which can be immerged in the hosting matrix without inducing delamination risk. The flexibility of the polymers was exploited also for the production of flexible tactile sensors. The sensing performances of the specimens were evaluated also in terms of lifetime with fatigue tests. In the case of ceramic piezo-materials, the production and the interleaving of nanometric piezoelectric powder limitedly affected the impact resistance of the laminate, which showed enhanced sensing properties. In addition to this, a model was proposed to predict the piezoelectric response of the self-sensing composite materials as function of the amount of the piezo-phase within the laminate and to adapt its sensing functionalities also for quasi-static loads. Indeed, one final application of the work was to integrate the piezoelectric nanofibers in the sole of a prosthetic foot in order to detect the walking cycle, which has a period in the order of 1 second. In the end, the energy harvesting capabilities of the piezoelectric materials were investigated, with the aim to design wearable devices able to collect energy from the environment and from the body movements. The research activities focused both on the power transfer capability to an external load and the charging of an energy storage unit, like, e.g., a supercapacitor

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