Y-Prize 2019–2020: Energy Harvesting and Metal Healing

Y-Prize 2019–2020: Energy Harvesting and Metal Healing

Each year, Engineering, Wharton and the Penn Center for Innovation come together for an invention competition known as the Y-Prize.

Unlike the XPRIZE, where competitors come up with novel technologies to solve a particular problem, the Y-Prize starts with the technologies developed at Engineering and challenges entrants to find commercial applications they are particularly suited for.

At stake: $10,000 to help get the winning idea out of the lab and into the market. The contest will begin on Tuesday, October 1 with a kick-off event in Heilmeier Hall in the Towne Building.

Any Penn student can form a team and brainstorm a startup company that makes use this year’s set of technologies, both of which were developed in the lab of James Pikul, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics.

Energy Harvesting

The limited capabilities of batteries are a principal barrier to realizing the potential of modern electronic technologies. In many cases, the size and weight of energy storage technologies required to power electronic systems are too large or massive for practical use. This results in compromises where the systems, such as an untethered robot, have limited operational times and are constrained by long battery recharging times over which they remain unused. Energy storage is particularly restrictive for micrometer- to centimeter-scale robots, vehicles, and electronics, as microbatteries dominate the size and mass of the corresponding devices.

To address these limitations, the Y-Prize presents a metal-air scavenger, a device that extracts electrical energy from metal surfaces to power robots, vehicles, and electronics. Read more here.

Metal Healing

Inspired by how bone heals to recover its geometric integrity and mechanical strength, this technology uses electrochemical transport of ions in polymer-coated porous metals to enable rapid, effective, and low-energy healing at room temperature. The cellular structure facilitates fast ion diffusion through an electrolyte. The polymer coating, which is insulating and chemically inert, restricts healing to fractured locations.

This healing technique enables not only full recovery of strength in cellular metals after fracture, but it also allows strengthening after limited damage (plastic deformation, for example) to prevent future fracture and extend service life.

Besides mechanical properties, this transport-mediated healing approach can also be used to recover other material properties, such as electrical and thermal conductivity. Combining this healing approach with advances in solid-state electrolytes, 3-D printing, self-healing polymers, and topology optimization can lead to useful applications in fields as varied as robotics and microfabrication. Read more here.