Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Committee Chair

Konstantinos Sierros

Committee Co-Chair

Marvin Cheng

Committee Member

George Kiriakidis

Committee Member

Xingbo Liu

Committee Member

Edward Sabolsky


During the previous decade, the development of energy harvesting devices based on piezoelectric materials has garnered great interest. The ability to capture ambient mechanical energy and convert it to useable electricity is a potential solution to the ever-growing energy crisis. One of the most attractive functional materials used in these devices is zinc oxide (ZnO). This material's relative low cost and ease of large-area processing has spurred numerous device designs based around it. The ability to grow ZnO nanostructures of various geometries with low-temperature chemical methods makes this material even more attractive for flexible devices. Although numerous device architectures have been developed, the long-term mechanical reliability has not been addressed.;This work focuses on the fabrication and mechanical failure analysis of the flexible components typically used in piezoelectric energy harvesting devices. A three-phase iterative design process was used to fabricate prototypical piezoelectric nanogenerators, based on ZnO nanowires. An output of several millivolts was achieved under normal contact and microtensile loading, but device failure occurred after only a few loading cycles, in all cases. Ex situ failure analysis confirmed the primary sources of failure, which became the focus of further, component-level studies. Failure was primarily seen in the flexible electrodes of the nanogenerating devices, but was also observed in the functional piezoelectric layer itself.;Flexible electrodes comprised of polyester substrates with transparent conductive oxide (TCO) coatings were extensively investigated under various loading scenarios to mimic tribo-mechanical stresses applied during fabrication and use in flexible contact-based devices. The durability of these films was explored using microtensile testing, spherical nanoindentation, controlled mechanical buckling, stress corrosion cracking, and shear-contact reciprocating wear. The electro-mechanical performance and reliability of functional ZnO films and nanostructures were also studied. ZnO was deposited on rigid and flexible substrates for investigations including controlled buckling, and contact-based rolling/sliding scenarios. Numerous in situ and ex situ analytical techniques were used to characterize component-level failure mechanisms, including two-probe electrical resistance, optical microscopy, SEM, AFM, and stylus profilometry.;Experimental results show that there is a strong relation between crack onset strain values, during microtensile and controlled bucking loading, and coating thickness. Relatively high crack onset values were observed for both thinner coatings and those patterned using photolithography and wet chemical etching techniques. Tribological experiments show that although piezoelectric ZnO films produce a measurable electrical output during combined rolling/sliding contact, cohesive wear of the oxide and adhesive wear between oxide and substrate is present and detrimental to sustained film functionality.