YHD Blogs – The Potential of Piezoelectricity


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


By Jenny L. 

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, our world has become reliant on fossil fuels. Despite major leaps made in the past few decades with solar, wind, air, water, and nuclear power, over 80% of the world still depends on this nonrenewable resource that entails catastrophic effects on our environment. Climate change, the melting of 175 billion tons of Arctic ice sheets per year, and the gradual destruction of the ozone layer are just a few examples of what use of this unsustainable energy source has done to the earth.

The seas absorb a quarter of all man-made carbon emissions, and through the burning of oil, coal and gas, it has become 30% more acidic. As the acidity in the waters rises, the amount of calcium carbonate, a material used by oysters and countless other marine organisms to form shells, has depleted drastically, thus slowing growth rates, weakening shells, and crippling entire ecosystems.

Oil is transported across the ocean in supertankers and is moved over land by pipeline, rail, and truck. In every case, the risk of oil spills poses a serious environmental threat. While major oil spills have decreased, they still occur; 3 large oil spills in North America released more than 5,000 barrels of oil each in 2013 alone. Spills and leaks from onshore oil pipelines also continue to be a major risk which holds the potential to release thousands of oil barrels at a time. 

However, the most detrimental effects of fossil fuels are felt when we burn these fuels and release carbon into the air. These emissions negatively impact the health of us humans, the ecosystem around us, and the planet. Of the many environmental and public health risks associated with burning fossil fuels, the most dangerous is the detrimental, irreversible changes incited by global warming. Fossil fuels produce large quantities of carbon dioxide, and when burned, these emissions trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, leading to a rise in temperature. This causes the melting of vast ice caps in the Arctic, decreasing the world’s access to freshwater, raising ocean levels, and posing dangers to wildlife. 

While many other forms of renewable energy have been discovered, such solar and wind energy, many depend on weather conditions, require much more space than fossil fuels, and are too costly to implement. Hydropower provides most of the world’s renewable energy and almost 90% of British Columbia’s electricity. The building of hydroelectric dams is not, however, without environmental drawbacks. The consequences of damming are far-reaching; conversion of surrounding valleys to lakes displaces communities of both humans and animals. Along with this, slowed flow-rates can cause severe losses in biodiversity, and increases in sedimentation may permanently change the river ecosystem.

Luckily, a new type of renewable energy is emerging. Piezoelectricity, a source of energy generated by applying pressure to certain materials, has proven to be very effective. Many companies are experimenting with piezoelectric tiles in hopes that it can take the load off unsustainable energy sources and make way for a cleaner future. Though a single step only generates a miniscule amount of energy, there is strength in numbers, and thousands of steps combined can greatly impact our lives. 

Currently, the VSB spends 3.7 million dollars per year on electricity bills, excluding the cost of maintenance. VSB is considering rebuilding many schools, as old construction has been deemed unsafe for earthquakes, including the school I attend, Eric Hamber. This is a great opportunity to add piezoelectric tiles and stairs into buildings, utilizing their efficiency and minimizing costs in electricity consumption once initial costs are covered.

 

There is a lot of work ahead towards a cleaner future, and piezoelectricity definitely has potential to play a role in this journey. We must work together to tackle the issue of nonrenewable energy, one step at a time!