April 20, 2024
Energy Harvesting Systems

Harvesting Energy from Our Surroundings

Energy harvesting, also known as power harvesting or energy scavenging, is the process where energy is derived from external sources (e.g. sunlight, thermal temperature differences, electromagnetic radiation, vibration, kinetic energy) and converted into electricity. This self-sustaining energy offers a number of benefits compared to traditional power sources like batteries which require periodic replacement or recharging.

Common Energy Harvesting Sources

There are a variety of environmental sources that can be harnessed for Energy Harvesting Systems purposes. Some of the most prevalent types include:

Solar Energy – Photovoltaic cells are commonly used to convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar power is clean, renewable and abundant, making it well-suited for energy harvesting in applications with exposure to light such as streetlights, buildings and vehicles.

Vibration – Mechanical vibrations from sources like operating machinery can be transformed into electrical energy using piezoelectric or electromagnetic generators. This approach is best utilized in applications experiencing vibrational energy from motors, engines or other mechanical movements.

Thermal Gradients – The temperature difference between two bodies or a single body and its ambient is all that’s required to generate power through thermoelectric or pyroelectric conversion. Devices like body heat harvesters capitalize on human thermal emissions while other thermal generators utilize temperature variances in industrial and automotive systems.

RF Wireless Signals – Ambient electromagnetic waves from TV/radio broadcasts or Wi-Fi/mobile signals can be picked up by antenna-connected rectifier circuits and stored as direct current electricity. This application works well for powering small, low-power sensors and electronics in urban environments.

Kinetic Energy – The motion of human body movement and fluid flows can generate power through nanogenerators that utilize piezoelectric or triboelectric materials. Wearable energy harvesters and those that tap into flowing water sources benefit from kinetic energy scavenging.

Biofuels – Metabolic processes within microbes and enzymes create usable chemical energy that can be transformed to electricity. This type of generation relies on substrates like glucose or lactate found naturally in the environment or produced as biomass.

Common Energy Harvesting Applications

With innovation driving down costs and scaling up performance, energy harvesting technology is being integrated into many different product types. Some prevalent uses include:

Wireless Sensor Networks – Battery replacement can be difficult or impossible for remote sensors deployed long-term in inaccessible locations. Energy harvesting allows maintenance-free power for applications like condition monitoring, smart cities, environmental tracking and infrastructure inspection.

Wearable Devices – Consumer electronics like smartwatches, fitness trackers and medical patches need power without the bulk and hassle of batteries. Kinetic harvesting from human motion and body heat is an ideal solution.

Implantable Medical Devices – Pacemakers, neural stimulators and drug delivery systems require decades of continuous function without replacement. Ongoing extraction of energy from heartbeats, muscle movements and other biological sources ensures safe, long-lasting performance.

Autonomous Systems – Drones, robots, Internet-of-Things devices and other mobile autonomous systems need to operate untethered for extended periods. Energy harvesting through solar, thermal, vibration or other means provides the electricity to power computing, sensing and mobility components.

Remote Monitoring – Environmental tracking of soil conditions, pollution levels, air quality and wildlife requires power beaming to detectors too difficult or costly to service. Self-sustaining detectors that recharge using the weather, air movement or other environmental traits remain functional for years.

Smart Buildings & infrastructure – Daylight controls, lighting controls, HVAC sensors and emergency backup systems capitalize on ample energy resources in these settings like sunlight, thermal differentials and structural vibrations.

Advantages and Future Outlook

At a time when energy demands continue rising globally, energy harvesting offers substantial economic and environmental advantages over conventional portable power sources. It provides a maintenance-free, reliable and low-cost power solution that is less prone to failure from depletion or battery replacement needs. Its adoption has been gaining momentum in commercial sectors like industrial IoT, logistics and utilities management.

Going forward, advancements in nanotechnology, materials science and power processing components are enabling larger-scale generation at lower costs. New harvesting techniques continue broadening the number of usable ambient energy sources as well. As renewable energy harvesting solutions become more pervasive and energy densities increase, traditional batteries may eventually become obsolete for many small electronics applications. While still in its relative infancy, energy harvesting is ascendant as a game-changing green technology paradigm. With ongoing innovations it could play a pivotal role in realizing sustainable energy independence of the future.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it