2/2017

Energy harvesting brings power to out-of-the-way places

If wires and batteries are out of the question, energy can be harvested from mechanical vibrations, movement, friction and heat. A growing number of devices are harvesting energy from ambient sources.

Car factory

 

Energy harvesting allows, for example, sensors to work for years without any servicing, which improves the efficiency of production facilities. The potential applications are endless.

 

Clean Energy from the Environment with Energy Harvesting

  • One of the winners of Tekes’s Challenge Finland competition. The two-year project runs from 2017 to 2019.
  • Coordinated by Tampere University of Technology. The project involves three laboratories from TUT: the Laboratory of Electronics and Communications Engineering, the Laboratory of Electrical Energy Engineering, and the Laboratory of Civil Engineering.
  • The partners include TUT, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the University of Oulu and eight companies based in Finland.
  • Total budget of 4.1 million euros.
 

Trucks have sophisticated monitoring technology deep under the hood. Sensors that detect moisture are often located in hard-to-reach places. Changing the batteries of equipment that monitor paper production processes takes a lot of work, and replacing the battery of a pacemaker is not easy. These devices need an alternative power source. Energy harvesting allows them to capture and convert energy that is readily available in the environment into electrical energy.

“Energy harvesting applications are finding their way into monitoring systems and other devices that need to work for extended periods of time without servicing,” says Pekka Ruuskanen, professor in the Laboratory of Electronics and Communications Engineering at Tampere University of Technology (TUT).

Potential energy sources include mechanical vibrations, motion, temperature differences, friction, RF signals, and various chemical reactions. Researchers at TUT have special expertise especially in the generation of electricity from mechanical vibrations and motion.

“The process of harvesting energy from motion and vibration is based on changes in the magnetic and electric fields. The rotational motion of, for example, trains and cranes can be converted into energy. Even our footsteps generate usable power every time our foot hits the floor. Temperature differences can be converted into an electric current using special materials,” describes Ruuskanen.

Internet of Things (IoT) spurs the development of energy-harvesting applications

Pekka Ruuskanen coordinates a project titled ‘Clean Energy from the Environment with Energy Harvesting’ that was launched earlier this year. The project explores different energy-harvesting applications and seeks solutions with commercial potential. Energy harvesting is attracting widespread attention as a promising alternative to supply low-power electronics.

“Electronic devices were much more power hungry in the past. Now it is relatively easy to harvest enough energy to have the devices running without batteries or wires. As the power consumed by electronics continues to decrease, energy harvesting is developing into an increasingly versatile and reliable source of energy,” says Ruuskanen.

As the Internet of Things develops further, the number of potential energy harvesting applications will grow exponentially. With more and more devices connected to the Internet of Things, we cannot have wires running everywhere. Button batteries are also harmful to our environment.

“The energy harvesting market is showing considerable growth. It is currently worth two billion dollars and growing at a rate of 20 per cent each year,” Ruuskanen says.

Numerous product development projects underway

Energy harvesting is an excellent example of an area that brings together scientific research and industrial R&D in a mutually beneficial way. The ‘Clean Energy from the Environment with Energy Harvesting’ project is one of the winners of the Challenge Finland competition organized by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes. The competition seeks solutions with commercial potential and builds bridges between world-class research and industrial R&D activities in Finland.

“Around 300 project proposals were sent to the competition, and funding was awarded to 33 of them. What Tekes especially appreciated in our project was the company consortium made up of different-sized companies: four large companies, which are potential end-users of the new technologies, and four start-ups that manufacture equipment for others. In addition to TUT, the consortium includes the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the University of Oulu, so the partners possess a broad range of expertise,” says Ruuskanen.

The goal is not only to promote Finnish research and technology in this growing field but also develop the business activities of the partner companies.

“Negotiations are currently underway about five product development projects. Industry sees significant potential in this market.”

Text: Sanna Kähkönen
Photo: 123rf

 
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