People crossing a busy street in Toronto, Canada.

Summary

  • With approximately 29% of greenhouse gas emissions coming from the electricity sector globally, developments in clean energy are vital. The expansion of renewable energy technology may reduce emissions from the oil, gas, energy and transport sectors that rely on fossil fuels.
  • Noise pollution is present everywhere, with well-developed cities experiencing the most intense effects. Some experts say loud sound pollution can contribute to health issues and reduce quality of life. Fortunately, noisy environments may present one way of generating renewable electricity, allowing us to turn a side effect of city living into a sustainable electricity source.
  • The piezoelectric effect is the ability of some materials to create an electric charge when mechanical pressure is added. Expert devices can harvest sound vibrations and convert them into electricity using a transducer by utilizing this effect.
  • While the technology is still in its infancy, it can be applied across many industries as noise-generated power banks develop. If these developments continue, it could mean a new way to store solar power, rather than relying on lithium-ion batteries, which have some environmental drawbacks.

Introduction

Producing clean, renewable energy and electricity is vital to reducing the oil, gas, energy and transport sectors.

The electricity sector is a notable polluter globally, as approximately 29% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from electricity generation. In 2019, the oil, gas and transport sectors contributed to 52% of Canada’s total emissions—making it the largest polluter of GHG. As the transport sector seeks to go green, investments in electric vehicles (EV) rise. This increase in EVs on the road means we need to ensure electricity production is clean.

Furthermore, in 2019 Canada’s energy sector was responsible for 589 million metric tons of GHG emissions, a 25% increase from 1990 statistics. Producing clean, renewable energy and electricity is vital to reducing the oil, gas, energy and transport sectors.

While researchers have been investigating renewable energy like solar, hydro and wind for some time, a relatively new method has arisen in the form of sound energy. By utilizing areas where noise pollution is high, there is the potential to turn noise into electricity.

This article will discover the possibility of using noise pollution for electricity and applying this technology across various industries.

The Hidden Impact of Noise Pollution

According to National Geographic, noise pollution can harm both animals and humans.

Noise pollution is often an ignored issue as it comes part and parcel with living in most urban areas. From busy roads to construction work, or inescapable noises, these everyday sounds may lower someone’s quality of life. In fact, a sound that hits 85 decibels or more may harm someone’s ears. For instance, many urban environments have subways that can reach between 90-115 decibels. According to National Geographic, noise pollution can harm both animals and humans; and may contribute to hearing loss, increased stress levels, rest disturbances and high blood pressure.

While some of these sounds may be unavoidable, there might be a way to utilize our noisy environments to produce clean electricity.

A diagram highlighting some factors affecting the planet and people, from rising temperatures to loud noise levels.

Can Experts Convert Sound into Electricity?

…it may be possible to harvest sound energy from noisy environments by using a suitable transducer.

The world depends on fossil fuels, solar, wind, water, and biomass sources to generate electricity. As more people move towards renewable sources like solar and wind power, researchers are looking for more ways to produce clean electricity. With this in mind, it may be possible to harvest sound energy from noisy environments by using a suitable transducer.  Research shows it’s possible to convert noise pollution into renewable electricity by harnessing sound from passing cars, a built-up city, or an airport.

A 2017 study used a speaker to generate sound. The researchers sought to understand if they could create electricity using the piezoelectric effect. This effect is the ability of some materials to form an electric charge after applying mechanical stress. Researchers found they could use their energy harvesting module to harvest and store noise energy in an ambient environment.

This research has presented a new way to harness vibrations from any environment by using the piezoelectric effect. This means for real-world application because they may have found a way to use environmental energy as an alternative to electrochemical batteries—which have a finite lifespan.

Another study published in 2017 tested the effectiveness of a Noise Pollution Based Power Bank. The researchers found it was sufficient in the various environments but the most effective in noisy and loud places where the battery was continuously charged.

Furthermore, a later 2019 investigation considered how one could utilize sound energy to power street lighting. Similar to a previous study, the investigation used piezoelectric materials. The researchers found the device too small to apply directly but noted it could be valid if replicated on a larger scale. In this way, their research highlighted the potential of using sound to power street lighting.

Can this Technology Apply to Real-Life Scenarios?

…if the energy from a noisy environment can be converted into electricity, it may present an alternative to electrochemical batteries.

While science shows it can convert sound into electricity, is it possible to apply this ideology to real-life situations? As we have seen from some of these studies, the technology would have to be replicated on a larger scale to produce enough electricity to power substantial items. However, one team of Grade 11 students made news by powering a lightbulb with sound. They reversed the technology of a speaker, which produces vibration when electricity passes through it. The students highlighted that if the device they created were in the airport, it might generate enough electricity to power a lightbulb through the night. Making light and electricity accessible in this way could revolutionize the lives of many communities that lack access to power. For many students, it could be the difference between them studying at home or not. These young inventors proved that electricity generated by sound could apply in everyday life.

What’s more, as the above research shows, if scientists can convert energy from a noisy environment into electricity, it may present an alternative to electrochemical batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are one example of an electrochemical battery used to store solar power and provide solar energy throughout the night or low-sunlight periods. However, while these batteries may offer a way to prolong the use of solar power, they are finite and may be difficult to dispose of. If we can replace these limiting batteries with Noise Pollution Based Power Banks, it may be a step toward making solar energy a more viable and sustainable option.

Hypothetically, recycling noise pollution into usable electricity could open up more methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as it may limit the demand for fossil fuel-based electricity. Further to this, utilizing sound energy has many possibilities. We may see it apply to noisy establishments, such as a bar, where they could recycle their noise waste and use it to supplement power. Promoting this type of innovative recycling might be a massive step towards a more sustainable future.

While these scenarios are exciting, applying this technology to real-life scenarios may not be entirely straightforward. For example, if a device to capture sound energy was positioned near a busy road, it could make use of the disturbances. Yet, as the transport sector moves towards electric vehicles, the streets will no longer produce the same noise level. For projects that rely on sound from cars, it would pose an issue. Of course, electric cars are a step in the right direction, so some modification would be required to find the best means to apply this technology and its role in a clean energy future.

While further development is needed, the future of noise-based electricity generation is promising.

Final Thoughts

Producing renewable energy is a definite way forward to achieving a greener future. Developments in technology have shown that it is possible to turn sound into electricity, suggesting noisy environments may offer another method for generating renewable electricity. That said, it would need to be replicated on a much larger scale and applying these projects can’t rely on old technology such as noisy cars, which are slowly becoming an electric industry. In all, while there may be some natural challenges along the way, noise-based electricity is a promising new development.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is noise pollution harmful to humans?

Noise pollution is a commonly misunderstood and ignored form of pollution. As urban lifestyles have become desirable, noise pollution in cities has increased and formed a regular part of many people’s lives. According to experts, noise pollution may contribute to heart issues, stress levels and rest disturbances. While the effects may go relatively unnoticed for some time, noisy environments may decrease the quality of life. With this in mind, noise pollution may cause some harm to humans, but there may be a way to use it for good and convert it into renewable energy.

 

How can sound be converted into electricity?

Sound is everywhere, and it forms an integral part of human life. In dense, urban cities, noise pollution may be a severe problem, but it is possible to harness this sound energy and turn it into renewable electricity. By using the vibrations from the sound, research shows this to be a real possibility. In areas with high foot traffic, busy roads, and construction, harvesting the sound may lead to less dependence on fossil fuels and increased renewable energy generation. This technology could apply to various industries from the entertainment sector, high-traffic locations to bustling airports.

 

Is noise-generated electricity renewable?

Determining if noise-generated electricity is renewable would involve assessing the entire lifecycle. However, looking at the source itself, it’s safe to assume that sound energy is renewable. Sound is everywhere, from cars, people, animals and the earth. It is embedded into everyday life, and it exists everywhere. Sound is not a finite source, and therefore, it is a form of renewable energy.

 

What role will noise generated-electricity play in a green future?

Using sound energy to create electricity offers another method to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Renewable energy such as wind and solar supplies more people and communities with cleaner electricity, reducing emissions associated with fossil fuel-based electricity.

Alternatively, this type of technology may have vast potential to be applied to any industry, from recycling sound in a busy bar to utilizing the noise from cars. However, as clean energy developers and electric vehicles become widely adopted, we will likely reduce noise pollution significantly associated with vehicles. If a clean energy project relies on noise from nearby cars, it may pose an issue for future electricity generation. That said, sound is a vital part of the human experience and day-to-day life, so there’s no knowing exactly how this technology will roll out.

 

How may developments in noise-energy technology innovate the industry?

Research shows that electricity generated from noise may present an opportunity to innovate the solar power sector. In one investigation, researchers suggested the technology may be a suitable alternative to electrochemical batteries, similar to the lithium-ion batteries used to store solar energy. Currently, these batteries allow people to use solar power during the night and off-peak sunlight hours. Yet, they are finite and difficult to dispose of, creating a hindrance for solar power growth. If solar batteries were cleaner, it may help the industry and displace more fossil fuels.

 

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