Analyzing energy potential

May 04, 2012

Sensors, radio transmitters and GPS modules all feature low power consumption. All it takes is a few milliwatts to run them. Energy from the environment - from sources such as light or vibrations - may be enough to meet these requirements. A new measurement device can determine whether or not the energy potential is high enough.

The freight train races through the landscape at high speed, the train cars clattering along the tracks. The cars are rudely shaken, back and forth. The rougher the tracks, the more severe the shaking. This vibration delivers enough energy to charge small : this is how the that monitor temperatures in refrigerator cars, or , can receive the current they need to run.

Vibration replaces batteries

Experts refer to this underlying technology as “energy harvesting“, where energy is derived from everyday sources such as temperature or pressure differences, air currents, mechanical movements or vibrations. But is this really enough to supply electronic microsystems? The answer is provided by a data logger that is also installed on board, a product by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits. This compact system analyzes and characterizes the potential of usable energy – in this case, the oscillations created during the ride. It measures key parameters of the source of the vibrations, such as the amplitude and the frequency spectrum of acceleration. “We can use the data collected to design vibration converters, such as the piezoelectric generators, to feed the sensors, radio transmission receivers, tracking systems and other low-power-consuming devices with enough energy to power them,“ explains the IIS group manager and engineer, Dr. Peter Spies. “The tracking systems in use to date run on just a battery. These batteries need constant replacement, but that involves a lot of effort and expense. Thanks to energy harvesting, we can replace the batteries and wiring.“ Logistics processes are not the only candidates, however. The energy “harvested“ can be used for a great many other applications as well – to charge heart-rate monitors, sensors in washing machines and production plants, or measurement systems in cars to measure the air pressure in tires.

The elements of the data logger include an acceleration sensor, a GPS module, a micro-controller, an SD card and a WiFi interface. The sensor measures the freight train‘s acceleration along three axes. At the same time, the GPS module determines the vehicle‘s position and stores the data along with the acceleration values on the SD card. These parameters can be used to pinpoint the train‘s speed and the amount of energy available to it. “That way, we can fine-tune the energy converter and tailor it to the application involved,“ the researcher adds.

The data logger is already in use in freight cars, trucks and machinery. Spies and his team are currently working to develop a complete tracking system that includes not only a GSM module and a GPS receiver but also a vibration converter that turns mechanical energy into electrical energy.

Explore further: PsiKick's batteryless sensors poised for coming 'Internet of things'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Raiders of the lost amp

Jul 05, 2011

Energy harvesting is a process that captures energy that would otherwise be lost as heat, light, sound, vibration or motion. It can use this captured energy to improve the efficiency of existing systems or even to power new ...

Good vibrations

Mar 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Energy harvesting - using vibrations from the environment to produce electricity - has been around for over a decade, but Dr Stephen Burrow and his team in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University ...

Install and Forget: Batteryless Radio Sensors

Mar 03, 2010

Siemens has developed a variety of energy autarkic radio sensors that draw the energy they require for operation from their surroundings. The technology can be used to automatically monitor facilities in remote ...

Power from motion and vibrations

Feb 16, 2010

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which traverses hundreds of miles of some of the most inhospitable terrain on Earth, must be monitored almost constantly for potential problems like corrosion or cracking. ...

Recommended for you

Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

14 hours ago

The work of a research leader at Michigan Technological University is attracting attention from Michigan's Governor as well as automotive companies around the world. Xiaodi "Scott" Huang of Michigan Tech's ...

Large streams of data warn cars, banks and oil drillers

Apr 16, 2014

Better warning systems that alert motorists to a collision, make banks aware of the risk of losses on bad customers, and tell oil companies about potential problems with new drilling. This is the aim of AMIDST, the EU project ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...