Energy scavenging – coming to a body near you soon?

As mechanical designers in the engineering field with a background in the manufacturing sector we are driven to find efficiencies wherever we can – be it in terms of looking for cost and time savings in the manufacturing process, minimising the use of materials in the manufacture, improved energy and power efficiencies during use or giving consideration to dissassembly and end-of-life.

We have for some time been fascinated by the idea of so-called energy scavenging – the idea that external energy sources be it microwave or RF energy, temperature gradients, wind energy, or sound vibrations can be captured and stored, and used to power small devices. The concept has been around for decades and we have already seen huge strides in areas such as renewable energy as the world works to tackle climate change. But there are also some interesting developments in the use of energy scavenging to power remote sensors and portable devices like mobile phones, and to generate power from human movements and sound.

There are many examples to draw on such as the researchers from the Queen Mary University of London, who have developed a device that uses everyday background noise to help generate an electrical charge, a development that could see mobile phones recharged off-grid. In Japan, technologies are being worked on that would generate electricity as commuters walk through a gate – using so-called piezo technologies – that turn mechanical strain into an electric current or voltage. Football fans will love the idea of the sOccket, a football that generates and stores electricity during a game and can then be used in developing countries to light a LED lamp, or charge a mobile phone or battery.

Closer to home, the father of one of our colleagues has just had the battery changed in his pacemaker – it involves invasive surgery and comes with some risk. So we have been interested to read about the advances in energy scavenging that use body heat as a constantly available source to power such devices and hopefully one day this will remove the need for such operations. One US company that’s seems to be making strides in this area is a firm called    TEGwear Technology, whose technology is integrated into wristbands or clothing, to provide an always-available renewable power source. In a similar vein, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing a device that they hope will one day use body heat to charge a mobile phone.

These are fascinating advances and ones looking to deal with real-world 21st century challenges.

Warley Design offers mechanical design, engineering and product development services to a broad range of industries. If you’ve got a project we can help you with please contact us.


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