The Michigan Engineer News Center

Professor Sodano receives ASME Energy Harvesting Best Paper award

This month, Dr. Sodano received the Energy Harvesting Best Paper award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for his publication, "ZnO Nanowire Interfaces for High Strength Multifunctional Composites with Embedded Energy Harvesting."| Medium Read

Dr. Henry Sodano, AE Associate Professor, is a researcher of unique breadth; with appointments in the Aerospace, Materials Science and Macromolecular Science Departments at the University of Michigan, he bridges distinct academic communities to develop advanced materials for aerospace applications. This month, Dr. Sodano received the Energy Harvesting Best Paper award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for his publication, “ZnO Nanowire Interfaces for High Strength Multifunctional Composites with Embedded Energy Harvesting.”

At its most basic level, energy harvesting involves the development of materials that can convert non-useful or undesired forms of energy, such as structural vibrations, into beneficial forms of energy, like electrical. Ideally, these energy harvesting materials are multi-functional, enhancing structural strength along with providing energy production capabilities. As detailed in his award-winning publication, Dr. Sodano’s team has successfully developed a “simple, scalable and cost-effective process” for making these energy harvesting systems more physically robust:

“The initial method my team was using in the creation of energy harvesting composites was coating a fiber with a solid shell of ceramic. After some initial analysis, we found that there was a stress concentration at the interface [of the fiber and the ceramic shell]. I knew that by changing the morphology [of this interface] from a discrete interface to a functional gradient, we could reduce the stress concentration [and strengthen the material]. We invented the concept of using an array of zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires to create this gradient.”

This array of ZnO nanowires not only served as a functional unit in the energy harvesting composite; it also greatly improved the structural performance of the material, increasing “the elastic modulus and tensile strength of the composites by 34.3% and 18.4%, respectively.”

EnlargeFracture surface micrograph of composite showing separated ZnO coating and trace of fibers.
IMAGE:  Fracture surface micrograph of composite showing separated ZnO coating and trace of fibers.

This innovation represents a natural progression of Dr. Sodano’s decade-plus work with multi-functional materials. He explains his early interest and cross-disciplinary engagement in the field:

“I have a structural dynamics background. I first became involved with multi-functional materials a number of years ago when it was just starting to become popular. Embedding multiple capabilities in a single material requires you to redesign the material [from a molecular level]. I quickly realized that if I was to work in this field, I had to learn to process materials, which I had never done before. As I learned, I started peeling back layers of complexity and making impacts in different fields.”

Dr. Sodano’s Aerospace Materials Lab reflects the diverse nature of the field, with its one Post-Doctoral and 7 Ph.D students hailing from the Aerospace, Materials Science and Macromolecular Departments. Dr. Sodano explains the advantage of this eclectic team make-up:

“Your ability to approach a problem improves when you have different perspectives.  Very few materials labs are focusing on aerospace applications, so we are able to make a unique impact.”

The aerospace applications of this research could indeed be far-reaching. With the potential to generate energy on any structure that is subject to force loading, Dr. Sodano’s material could be incorporated into airplane wings to generate energy as the aircraft flies or into spacecraft to supplement mission power requirements. Due to this breadth of possible applications, Dr. Sodano will look towards industry demand to guide future development:

“The key is to have companies start to explore [our material’s uses] and to have them work with it in their settings. The Air Force Research Lab in Dayton, [OH] is already looking into how they can mass produce it and make the process scalable.”

Fracture surface micrograph of composite showing separated ZnO coating and trace of fibers.
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