Scientists Invent Generator with no Batteries

The search for new energy sources and for the most efficient ways of using the existing ones is evidently becoming crucial in today’s machinery-driven world. It seems now that British scientists have successfully made use of an additional source of energy that most of us have never thought of exploiting. Scientists from Southampton University in the UK have created a practical “vibration harvesting” microgenerator. At less than one cubic centimeter, this device is capable of generating electric power using the natural vibrations that surround it. Due to the increasing demand of low power miniature sensors and wireless sensor networks over the past years, this clever microgenerator immediately came into use as the electrical power source to these sensors.
Perpetuum's microgenerator  
Perpetuum’s microgenerator
(Credit: Perpetuum)

The idea of using vibrations as an energy source had been previously studied and is still under research, but its practical applications are innovative. A futuristic research conducted at IntAct Labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the USA is currently studying the development of motion-sensitive proteins that could be used to create electrical power in places where other power sources are scarce. If these proteins prove to be effective, they may be used to cover astronauts’ space suits or to coat manned bases on Mars.

While the American venture uses biological components, the device invented by the British scientists who founded the “Perpetuum” Company is entirely mechanical. Vibrations cause magnets on a cantilever at the heart of the generator to oscillate and the movement of the magnets generates power of several microwatts. This is achieved through a highly optimized magnetic circuit, which is coupled to a mechanical resonator, so that the mechanism transforms the kinetic energy of the vibrations into an electric current. According to Dr. Steve Beeby, who led the research, the small amount of energy produced by the microgenerator is enough to activate sensors attached to machines in manufacturing plants. “The big advantage of wireless sensor systems is that by removing wires and batteries, there is the potential for embedding sensors in previously inaccessible locations,” says Beeby.

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Initially, the microgenerator was developed to be applied into air compressors, but the technology is now used in various fields. Vibration energy-harvesting is a highly attractive option for wireless condition monitoring of machinery, since machinery performance is often measured by the level of its vibrations. The microgenerator is also widely used in civil and military aircrafts and in other means of transportation.However, one of the most interesting applications of the microgenerator is in medical implants, where among other applications is is being used in order to constantly recharge devices such as heart pacemakers. The device converts the kinetic energy of the vibrations generated by the patient’s heart beat into electric power, decreasing the invasive procedures needed to maintain the built-in pacemaker.

This project has been partially funded by the EU, as part of the VIBES – Vibration Energy Scavenging project, which invests in the development of such energy harvesting methods.

TFOT recently covered a different vibration harvesting technology called Pacesetters developed by the British company “The Facility” which converts mechanical movement associated with footsteps vibration into electricity.

More information on the VIBES project can be found here. More information on the new energy-harvesting microgenerators can be found on Perpetuum’s website.