Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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John McKenna, Editor

Project improves efficiency of energy harvesters

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Teddington, UK- Scientists working as part of the Metrology for Energy Harvesting Project have developed a new model to deliver the maximum power output for piezoelectric energy harvesters.

Piezoelectric energy harvesters utilise energy from unwanted mechanical vibrations at the micro scale, such as the rattling of an air conditioning duct or the movement of a bridge with passing traffic.

The technology could make industrial processes more efficient and open up applications in areas such as wireless sensor networks.

Systems usually comprise of vibrating cantilevers covered with a piezoelectric layer that converts mechanical strain into an electrical charge. Most developers cover the entire length of the cantilever with piezoelectric material in an attempt to maximise the conversion efficiency.

However, scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), one of seven national measurement institutes involved in project, have discovered that this approach is counterproductive.

Their research shows that due to the charge redistribution across the cantilever there is an internal loss of power of up to 25% of potential output. To counter this, the team has developed a model to show that more energy can be converted if the beam is only covered with piezoelectric for two thirds of its length.

As well as developing wireless sensor networks, researchers are targeting applications that range from the predictive maintenance of moving machine parts, to electronic devices that harvest their own wasted operational energy.

Markys Cain, Knowledge Leader at NPL, said: “The energy harvesting market was worth $605 million in 2010 but is predicted to reach $4.4 billion by the end of this decade. For the market to reach its true potential we need to develop the products that can guarantee a greater energy yield and drive industrial adoption of energy harvesting products.”

The research is part of a three year collaboration bringing together Europe’s expertise in measurement, energy harvesting and systems engineering. It is supported by the European Union and has a value of €400m.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Where is the push for industrial application for piezoelectric energy, where the vibrations, noise, and waste heat from industrial and factory machines can be used as an energy resource? The amount of energy that could be utilized is staggering in industries around the world. Why settle for gimmicks like illuminating dance floors and disco balls when we can be illuminating entire buildings and factories, and generating power on a useful scale?

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  • As an M&R professional, my goal would be to ensure that my machinery didn't create enough vibration to derive a lot of useful power from, as that vibration translates to wasted energy not helping my process.
    If I harvest it, then I've got less of an incentive to ensure my machine efficiency through lower vibration. Kind of a double-edged sword, eh?
    I think for the most part, anyone that can afford waste-energy harvesting technologies is already using them. I just heard a report on BBC Americas about a British mortuary that is utilizing the waste heat from it's crematory for heating the facility. Efficient....kind of morbid, but efficient. Human bodies as a fuel source kind of brings to mind some apocalyptic-future movie.

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  • Mike, In a perfect world we would be noise and vibration free, but that is certainly not the case in any large industry I am aware of. We processed and froze more than a million pounds of farm produce per day where I worked, and the magnitude of vibration within the plant is staggering, as is the amount of waste heat and noise. It is simply hard to imagine how much energy could be recovered if piezoelectric technology could be utilized.

    If only this could be made to work on an industrial level to generate massive amounts of electricity........

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