The Energy Scavengers

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But that outlook changed in the late s, when he started working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and saw scientists using new materials to solve real-world problems. His new projects always begin with the same question: What can we use this for? In , Wang focused his lab on designing devices that could power themselves. Eight years ago, Wang and his graduate students were testing a device, a sort of electric sandwich made of thin slices of piezoelectric materials.

The engineers were having trouble removing all the air gaps between the layers, which they assumed would hamper the electric flow of the device. When they tested the design, however, they recorded a higher voltage — three to five times higher — than they expected.

It turned out some air gaps remained, which meant that something other than the piezoelectric effect was responsible. The team realized the voltage must result from charges exchanged when the materials rubbed together: static electricity. Ideas for workable TENGs range from paper-based audio speakers that charge while folded up and tucked in a shoe, to generators that convert the mechanical rise and fall of a breath to power a pacemaker.

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A TENG relies on the same principle as static electricity: When two different materials come into contact, electric charges can accumulate on one, leaving the other with the opposite charge. Attach electrodes and wires to the oppositely charged materials, and current flows to correct the imbalance. Most researchers agree that triboelectric generators have the most potential when it comes to powering small devices, like phones and watches, but Wang wants to go big. His team recently took a few dozen of those plastic spheres to a neighborhood swimming pool — after hours — and set them loose to oscillate in the ripples.

Even the slightest bobbing produced enough energy to power small lights or devices.

Scavenging ambient electromagnetic energy to power small electronic devices

Their calculations suggest that a grid of 1, spheres, floating freely in the ocean, should generate enough power for a standard lightbulb. A grid measuring about a third of a square mile could power a small town. Imagine a matrix of these spheres covering an area of the ocean equal to the state of Georgia and extending about 30 feet down.

Triboelectricity can power many kinds of devices. For example, generators in shoes would produce a current with every step. Triboelectricity suggests a clear way to solve existing energy challenges with materials. And that solution could soon come to a gadget near you. Triboelectric devices could show up in the U. Like many new technologies, however, the success or failure of triboelectrics as a major energy source depends on how well its applications can scale up and endure conditions messier than a pristine lab.

But perhaps the biggest open question hanging over TENGs is why they work at all. High school physics teachers and college professors tell students that the materials exchange charges, citing terms like electron affinity. This capability is also reversible. Smart Materials Corp. They serve a wide range of flow-metering and structural-health monitoring uses.

The MFC sensors are essentially encapsulated piezo ceramics to which metal is added as an interstitial passive material. As a sensor, it has a range of 0. Smart Materials says that it is possible to integrate them with electronic components. The piezoelectric principle is also used by Arveni s. The respective output voltages are Arveni is targeting membrane switch, home automation metering, industrial remote-control, and wireless sensing applications.

Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting Solutions

For use in load cell applications, SensorTech uses a patentpending thin-film conductive polymer of polyphenylene sulfide PPS. The polymer sits between the two electrodes in the load path, one at the top and the other at the bottom of the polymer composite. The polymer has a non-linear response its resistivity falls with a rising load which is linearized by signal conditioning. The fact that the resistance drops sharply at low mechanical loads means the load cell is inherently more accurate at lower loads, the opposite response of stain-gauge-based sensors.

Ditto for the repeatability hysteresis levels which are poised to replace straingauge technology, SensorTech claims. Temperature gradients are one of the oldest sources of energy available for harvesting. Thermocouples, in use for generations, are the most common example of this technique. Also in wide use is the thermoelectric electric effect -- often called the Seebeck effect, the Peltier effect and the Thomson effect.

Micropelt GmbH in Germany is one of the leading thermoelectric-effect energy harvesters. Micropelt makes use of an aluminum-oxide substrate on which multiple thermocouples are laid, thermally in parallel and electrically in series. Power comes from a small solar cell or a thermal harvester. Vibratory motion is another rich source of energy harvesting. Energy scavenged from motion has been used for a number of years in the biomedical community to power prosthetics, pace makers, artificial organs, and implants.

However, while this work continues, challenges lie ahead for coming up with devices that meet size, power, and biocompatibilit standards.


It should be noted that such work looks promising. The sensors can detect human heartbeats up to 1 m away without any physical contact with the body. The exact method of sensing has yet to be made clear. However, the researchers say that the sensitivity of these sensors means that they can detect muscle and eye movements, and eventually will be able to pick up brain and nerve-fiber signals.

A major developer and manufacturer of energy scavenging motion sensors is Perpetuum Ltd. SOC is Login Forgot your password? Forgot your password? No problem! Submit your e-mail address below.

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The Energy Scavengers The Energy Scavengers
The Energy Scavengers The Energy Scavengers
The Energy Scavengers The Energy Scavengers
The Energy Scavengers The Energy Scavengers
The Energy Scavengers The Energy Scavengers

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