German student builds electromagnetic harvester to recharge a battery

Feb 12, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
German student builds electromagnetic harvester to recharge a battery
Credit: Dennis Siegel

Dennis Siegel, a student at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany has built what he calls an electromagnetic harvester—it converts electromagnetic fields in the immediate environment into electricity to recharge a common AA battery. He's won a 2nd place award in the HfK Bremen Hochschulpreis 2013 competition for Digitale Medien, for his efforts.

is all around us of course. In addition to natural sources, such as lightning, it's also given off by virtually every , device or machine humans make. Siegel (and many others) have noted that the electromagnetism around us all could be converted to electricity and used for some purpose. The problem of course, is that the comparatively small amount of it in the air around us isn't enough to make much electricity—the device Siegel built takes up to a day to charge a single . But that's not reason enough to not build and use a device, as he has demonstrated. He's added electronics to give the device the capability of capturing electromagnetism in two ranges—one below 100Hz (electrical mains, etc.) and another for capturing those above 100Hz (Blue tooth frequencies etc.). On top is a red LED to indicate how strong the electromagnetism is in the area and on the back is a magnet for affixing the device to a metal surface near a good source.

German student builds electromagnetic harvester to recharge a battery
Credit: Dennis Siegel

The particulars of the electronics inside his device haven't been detailed (likely to prevent copycats) with a description only of "coils and high frequency diodes" being put to use to allow for the conversion. But that clearly isn't the point of his device. Instead, it highlights not only the fact that we live our lives in a constant state of bombardment of electromagnetism, but also that all of the energy from all of the collective devices in use in the world today, is currently going to waste. But, because of small devices like the one Siegel has built, it becomes possible to envision banks of such devices sitting on roofs (or other places) making use of that electromagnetism to add to the electricity generated by other renewable sources, such as solar or wind collection devices—just another way to demonstrate a higher level of intelligent power generation and conservation.

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neversaidit
2 / 5 (8) Feb 12, 2013
who is john galt..?
alq131
4.9 / 5 (9) Feb 12, 2013
I don't think it's a myth, but there are stories of people living near high voltage transmission lines filling their garage with a coil essentially creating a giant transformer to harvest energy from the HV lines. Power companies frown on this because of course, the EM that is "wasted" isn't necessarily wasted. I wonder what threshold they would consider prosecuting. If millions of battery chargers appeared and harvested "wasted" energy, would the power companies be upset?
Tausch
1.7 / 5 (7) Feb 12, 2013
What is your point?
Prosecute? What?
Upset? With?
grondilu
4.9 / 5 (9) Feb 12, 2013
Does it really only gather energy that otherwise would have been wasted? I have my doubts. Once he adds a coil to the EM system, he basically adds a path for energy to flow. I suspect the energy would not have been wasted in nature if this path hadn't been there, but would have gone through the "normal" path. In other words, it seems to me that he's kind of short-circuiting the thing. Not picking the left-overs.
MR166
2.2 / 5 (9) Feb 12, 2013
"just another way to demonstrate a higher level of intelligent power generation and conservation"

So this is intelligent power generation! Articles like this make the green power movement look really silly.
GSwift7
3.8 / 5 (16) Feb 12, 2013
Tausch:

What is your point?
Prosecute? What?
Upset? With?


alq131 is right. By 'collecting' this 'wasted' magnetic field you are interfering with that field. In the case of harvesting the field of a high voltage line, you are increasing the impedence in the HV line. In the case of the bluetooth signal, you're going to make some bluetooth users unhappy when their device doesn't work near you.

By harvesting energy from the ambient magnetic field of a power cable, you are placing resistance against the source of that magnetic field. This causes the power company to actually lose power. They wouldn't notice a AA battery, but still.

Here in the US this device will never get past the Federal Communications Commission for approval, as all electronic devices must do here.

This is actually stealing power from your source. Maybe it's not much power, but it would add up if it went mainstream as the article seems to dream of.
GSwift7
4.2 / 5 (10) Feb 12, 2013
Continued:

As a further example:

Let's say that you place a device similar to this on the main breaker coming into your home. At the end of the month, every Watt of power you 'harvest' in this manner WILL show up on your electric bill at the end of the month. The power company's meter will show that you are actually using that power.

If you could actually take power from these magnetic fields without negatively affecting the source, then you would be breaking the Law of Conservation of Energy.

If you could get something for nothing, then you would be building the infamous Perpetual Motion Machine.

Now do you understand the absurdity of the above story? The technology to do this isn't mysterious or difficult. I could build one of these easily from off-the-shelf hardware. An inductive current meter is essentially what he has built. You can buy them from Fluke and other sources. The reason nobody does this is because it doesn't make any sense.
MR166
2.9 / 5 (7) Feb 12, 2013
A device like this, placed on your roof, would be lucky to capture a few microwatts of power. Yes, if you are unfortunate enough to live next to a large substation you might be able to collect a few tens of milliwatts with this device and recharge your AA cell in a couple of weeks.
antialias_physorg
4.1 / 5 (9) Feb 12, 2013
but there are stories of people living near high voltage transmission lines filling their garage with a coil

The idea isn't entirely new. People near radio stations tried this 20-30 years ago. It's illegal now (because 'downwind' of the guy with the coil there is no reception anymore.)

You can probably get away with something like the guy built because it won't register with the utilities company in any measurable way. But stack enough of these gizmos (or make them large enough) and someone is going to come a-looking.

The 'hole' you're creating in the EM field will stick out like a sore thumb to anyone with a directional antenna
(I don't know if you had this in the US, but over here there were vans that drove around trying to find out if someone was capturing TV signals without paying the bills - which is basically the same thing).

daqman
4 / 5 (8) Feb 12, 2013
This is analogous to the controversy a couple of years ago over using devices buried in roads to generate "free" electricity from passing cars. The controversy is that, although it seems the energy is otherwise wasted, draining that energy from the system increases the resistance to motion. So a passing car has to work harder. The energy comes out of the pocket of the driver.

With this device and e.m. field contains a certain amount of energy. It does so because a certain field strength is required for the equipment that generates the field to function, whether it is a transformer, a radio station or a bluetooth device. Putting a device in the field that removes energy from the field either adds a load on the field generator or decreases the field strength at a receiver. Either way the energy isn't "free"/. Yes, in some ways it can be viewed as wasted but that is because the equipment using the field is inefficient. Draining energy from the system only makes it less efficient!
Eikka
4.5 / 5 (8) Feb 12, 2013
is currently going to waste


Technically, when you harvest energy from magnetic or electric fields around devices, you're changing the environment and causing a larger drain on their power supplies. That's why power companies don't like you burying coils underneath transmission lines - it's not just that they can't charge you money for it.

The magnetic field around a wire for example will induce stray currents in objects, and yes, that energy will go to waste, but if you add a coil into this field that saps some of the energy, you aren't reducing the amount that would go to waste - you're increasing the amount that leaks out of the device.

It's like, if you have a leaking party balloon, the pressure outside slows down the leak. If you remove air outside of the balloon, the balloon leaks faster because the pressure outside drops.
cantdrive85
2.1 / 5 (17) Feb 12, 2013
Tesla did this a hundred years ago, on a larger scale. He "harvested" the EM energy directly from the Earth using huge coils, sadly the "powers that be" didn't like the idea of providing free energy to the masses. Tesla once quipped of the nature of electrical connectivity of our planet;
"So astounding are the facts in this connection, that it would seem as though the Creator himself had electrically designed this planet..." Tesla
Eikka
2.1 / 5 (7) Feb 12, 2013
It's a curious fact to think about, but even when you point a flashlight at a white card versus a black card, there's more net energy leaving from the lightbulb when the target is black than when it's white.

Simply because the white card emits some energy back towards the lightbulb, whereas the black card doesn't. Therefore attempting to harness the output of a lightbulb with a black card means that the lighbulb draws more energy, even if it is a very insignificant amount.

And this is true especially for a lightbulb whose current draw is dependent on the temperature of the filament, so that the hotter it remains the less power it draws.
spaceagesoup
not rated yet Feb 12, 2013
^ considerable lack of foresight and/or dreams. there are many coil geometries which lead to higher gain
Tausch
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 12, 2013
Can we expect the photovoltaic/electric industry to prosecute?
What happens to this mans' device after super-conduction at higher temperatures are implemented?

Is the card/lightbulb scale invariant? Earth/Sun?
Who's going to prosecute what, where and who?
VendicarE
1.4 / 5 (10) Feb 12, 2013
I am.

"who is john galt..?" - Never

Why was Ayn Rand a welfare parasite?

VendicarE
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 12, 2013
Devices like the one mentioned in the article are not without utility.

They can provide power for low power/low priority ubiquitous computing and low power display devices.

Bridge stress sensors, temperature monitors, various types of display tags, soil moisture monitors, etc. all come to mind.

wiyosaya
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 12, 2013
^ considerable lack of foresight and/or dreams. there are many coil geometries which lead to higher gain

In voltage or current but not both at the same time.
wiyosaya
5 / 5 (5) Feb 12, 2013
It's a curious fact to think about, but even when you point a flashlight at a white card versus a black card, there's more net energy leaving from the lightbulb when the target is black than when it's white.


Personally, I would like to see a source where this is experimentally documented. Is there a reference for this effect?
MR166
2.8 / 5 (6) Feb 12, 2013
When I was a child I connected one end of a neon light to a ground and the other to a 6 foot length of wire. Every time there was a lightning strike the neon light would flash. This was the earliest form of "Green" power. Perhaps I should have applied for a government grant!!!!!!!!!!!!!
rubberman
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 12, 2013
It's a curious fact to think about, but even when you point a flashlight at a white card versus a black card, there's more net energy leaving from the lightbulb when the target is black than when it's white.


Personally, I would like to see a source where this is experimentally documented. Is there a reference for this effect?


Considering a flashlight is a closed system and the bulb has a designated power draw on the source and lumen output, no. Considering the nature of photons, I suppose Nasa might have an instrument that could measure the difference if there is one. Of course by that rationale, if you had 2 identical stars, but one had planets that reflect light, that star would "live" longer than it's counterpart, so back to no.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2013
Perhaps one of you green rocket scientists can figure out how to connect a generator to this.

http://www.office...odRnAA4w
rkolter
4.8 / 5 (4) Feb 12, 2013
The fact that the image is of the inventor with several of these devices attached to the fence around a high power line suggests that he knows perfectly well that he's not using wasted energy - he's stealing energy from the power company.
GSwift7
2.7 / 5 (6) Feb 12, 2013
To Anti-Alias:

Yes, this type of device is illilegal in the US. The FCC will never allow this here.

to rkolter:

Don't be so sure. I've met plenty of guys who are technically skillful at building things, but who have zero understanding of fundamental physics. So, perhaps he knows that he is 'stealing' from the utility company, and perhaps he doesn't. There are plenty of people who post here who are obviously educated and who have extensive vocabulary, yet lack any basic understanding of how it all fits together.

If any of you have see a wireless cell phone charger, it is basically the same thing as this, though specific frequencies and power/range prevent conflict with other devices.
rah
2.8 / 5 (6) Feb 12, 2013
This device can then convert the harvested electro-magnetic energy into a small but highly focused gamma ray beam which while narrow, still has the ability to burn a small hole through any man made material from up to three miles away. A side benefit of the device is that some men have reported significant enhancement to certain body parts while also reporting no erections lasting longer than four hours.
Eikka
2.7 / 5 (7) Feb 12, 2013

Personally, I would like to see a source where this is experimentally documented. Is there a reference for this effect?


Comes from the simple fact that the white card will return more of the photons back to the lightbulb filament than the black card. The filament stays hotter, and thus its resistance is higher, which means it draws less current and consumes less power.

And yes, it would theoretically work for a star as well. Placing a reflecting planet on the way would return some of the energy back to the star, which would become hotter, which would cause it to expand and that would slow down the fusion reaction.
Eikka
1.5 / 5 (4) Feb 12, 2013
I don't know if you had this in the US, but over here there were vans that drove around trying to find out if someone was capturing TV signals without paying the bills - which is basically the same thing


That's an entirely different thing.

Early TV and radio sets were so called superheterodyne recievers because high frequency amplifiers and filters weren't feasible or cheap. They mixed the incoming carrier wave with one from a local oscillator to drop the signal into a lower frequency band to be amplified.

This local oscillator carrier frequency would leak back through the antenna, and the man in a van could pick it up with his antenna. He could even tell you what channel you were watching based on how the television was tuned.

As time went by, TV sets would stop using the technique and it became impossible to detect a set, but they still went around in the vans to scare people into paying the lisence fees.
Eikka
2 / 5 (4) Feb 12, 2013
I suppose you could test the white/black card theory by placing a simple 3 volt flashlight bulb in a box painted either white or black inside. Connected to a good constant voltage source, you should see some difference in the current it draws with a sensitive meter

Even an LED would exhibit this effect, seeing that an LED is a reverse photovoltaic cell and will produce a current when you shine a light on it. This tiny amount of current would go counter to the current that is making the LED shine so the back-reflection will cause the LED to consume less power.

Point of the story is, that you can't really have a one-way-only system of energy transfer. If you had one, it'd be a Maxwell's Demon and enable perpetual motion.
ValeriaT
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 12, 2013
all of the energy from all of the collective devices.. is currently going to waste ..because of small devices ... it becomes possible to envision banks .. making use of that electromagnetism to add to the electricity generated by other renewable sources..
Such a devices will greatly limit the strength of signal for another receivers.
Dug
5 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2013
When I was kid in the 50s-60s we all had small crystal radios that could be attached to almost any substantial metallic structure and get enough "static" electricity to power the radio and its ear bud. Mine was shaped like a miniature rocket ship about 4 inches long and an inch in diameter. The little ball (Sputnik) on the nose cone pulled out and tuned the radio. Almost every kid I knew had these, and no one objected to stealing power. I listened to mine in bed at night by using the small wire with an alligator clip that came with it to attach it to our heating system radiator next to my bed, or at other times to fences or water pipes, rain gutters, etc. Not nearly as elegant as the transistor radios of the time or the Walkman coming in a few years, but lots more fun and no batteries to buy. I suspect somewhere someone is still making these little radios in one form or another. Point being, this is far from new technology.
jesse7
1 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2013
Whats next, an article about how breaking into the circuit to a street light can provide free energy for cell phones?
mj4358
not rated yet Feb 13, 2013
The way some of you complain, one would think they were being forced to use it.
NikFromNYC
1 / 5 (5) Feb 13, 2013
Why was Ayn Rand a welfare parasite?

Because she involuntarily paid welfare taxes in the first place?

http://boingboing...o-a.html
unknownorgin
not rated yet Feb 14, 2013
If a coil of wire is placed near a power transformer at best only a few thousandth of a watt of power could be harvested and any transformer wastes many magnitudes more power in the form of heat. An FM transmitter putting out 20,000 watts will be very difficult for a reciever 100 miles away to pick up because most of the transmitted energy will be radiated into space or absorbed into the ground and turned into heat. Utility companys get concerned when a long wire is installed paralell to a high voltage line because it makes a capacitor able to draw usable amounts of power free of charge from their lines that has a great enough monitary value to claim a loss. No one cares about a few thousands of a cent of electricity "borrowed".

cmn
not rated yet Feb 17, 2013
I think the point is to harvest the energy that is otherwise transmitted where it's not (supposed to be) used. Think of your neighbor's Wifi coming through your walls. Sure, if he ever wanted to connect to his network two houses down you would block his reception, but more than likely he's not going to care if you create an EM hole outside of his house, and vice versa.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2013
As time went by, TV sets would stop using the technique and it became impossible to detect a set, but they still went around in the vans to scare people into paying the lisence fees.


My parents had a new house in Kansas City, somewhat near the airport. The cable television wall outlets had not been properly terminated and crimped when the house was built. After they had lived there for about a year, a van from the FCC located their house by RF tracking. Their cable TV wires were interfering with air traffic control at the airport. They gave my parents a few weeks to get it fixed, shut it down, or get a fine.

They do still hunt down unlicensed radio broadcasters. They will issue a warning, then a fine, then jail time and conficated equipment. There's a grass roots movenent of civil disobedience amongst so-called pirate radio stations. There was a story on NPR about it a few weeks ago.
_traw_at
not rated yet Feb 19, 2013
...there are stories of people living near high voltage transmission lines filling their garage with a coil essentially creating a giant transformer to harvest energy from the HV lines. Power companies frown on this because of course, the EM that is "wasted" isn't necessarily wasted. ...


This happened on a farm in Ontario in the 1960s or 1970s: the utility took the farmer to court and lost because the farmer's pick-up coils were on his property, and away from the HV lines.
I believe this was written up in an article in McLean's magazine in those days, which would have been where I remember it from.

In another case over there, one family couldn't turn their fluorescent lights off, since they were powered by nearby HV lines.
That could be bloody annoying....

FastEddy
1 / 5 (3) Feb 19, 2013
alq131 is right. By 'collecting' this 'wasted' magnetic field you are interfering with that field. ... This causes the power company to actually lose power. ... This is actually stealing power from your source. Maybe it's not much power ...


Actually the stray emf field would be wasted in any case. It is true that many designs of this type "steal" by "back emf", but so does your car every time you drive underneath a power line.

Look, this power radiates ubiquitously, everywhere, even through your own body. There is no good reason why you, as "payment" for this intrusion, should not turn it into a benefit.
DarkWingDuck
1 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2013
Is that any different than using a solonoid around a power line to charge the battery? Cause that's like illegal. How far away do you have to be for it to count? I'll build a solonoid of that radius. :P
DarkWingDuck
1 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2013
alq131 is right. By 'collecting' this 'wasted' magnetic field you are interfering with that field. ... This causes the power company to actually lose power. ... This is actually stealing power from your source. Maybe it's not much power ...


Actually the stray emf field would be wasted in any case. It is true that many designs of this type "steal" by "back emf", but so does your car every time you drive underneath a power line.

Look, this power radiates ubiquitously, everywhere, even through your own body. There is no good reason why you, as "payment" for this intrusion, should not turn it into a benefit.

A power company delivers power with the environmental resistance as a known factor. Specifically designing a device which causes a known and measurable cost to the power company for profit to the inventor at the power companies loss is de facto stealling.
sender
1 / 5 (1) Feb 21, 2013
Typical nantenna to transformer rectification system, mark another goon down.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2013
In another case over there, one family couldn't turn their fluorescent lights off, since they were powered by nearby HV lines.


I think that could've been solved by shorting the ends of the tube with a wire.

Actually the stray emf field would be wasted in any case.


Yes, but you cannot capture the waste without also increasing the drain on the system. You could perhaps carefully insert a load between the ground and a power line, whose impendance exactly matches the impendance of the air that it displaces, but it would be extremely difficult to pull off and also quite large.

ozorian
not rated yet Feb 24, 2013
Nikola Tesla did the same if i am not wrong
cybertronic72388
not rated yet Feb 24, 2013
Nokia was doing this back in 2009, nothing new.
joebenham
not rated yet Feb 24, 2013
it must be true, then, that people who live next to power lines are very likely subject to harmful effects of high doses of electromagnetism. one AA battery a day may not seem like a lot for our everyday use, but that kind of everyday exposure could be very harmful to the human body (?). these devices for soaking up that energy could be beneficial, not only in making use of that energy, but in absorbing its harmful effects on humans. perhaps those copper bracelets and metal devices that new agers wear to protect them from this very thing actually DO work...
daen
not rated yet Feb 24, 2013
Sorry, anyone who believes that, somehow, the reception of transmitted EM radiation drains the transmitter is an idiot. Does observing a star through a telescope somehow reduce the luminosity of that star? No. Does receiving a signal on a portable radio or cell phone draw more power from the transmitter? Not even slightly.

All this guy is doing is using the tiny currents induced in the antenna to charge a battery through some smart electronics. It's a neat application of using otherwise wasted radiated EM wavelengths and doesn't cost the power company or radio station or cell phone provider or wifi provider or whatever any more cash.

Now, granted, if there were enough of these things, there might be a degradation in downstream EM signal from cell/radio transmitters -- but 'enough' would have to be a heck of a lot (each one of these can charge an AA cell in one day, which, allowing for charging inefficiencies, is about 15000J/86400s or about 170mW of power ...)
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2013
Does it really only gather energy that otherwise would have been wasted? I have my doubts.
Yes it does. A high yield antenna can significantly reduce the signal accessibility in wide diameter around it - it literally sucks the field lines into itself. It wouldn't bring problems only at the places, where the concentration of receivers is sufficiently low (during night etc).

BTW From the same reason even the tiny molecules of dye can absorb the light, which is of much larger wavelength at the moment, when they resonate with it. These connections are apparent even without thorough mathematical analysis.
AGerman
not rated yet Feb 24, 2013
Funnily, he may just have talked to his grandfather: in the 1950s, it was very common to "harvest" power from the radio antennas that way all over Europe (and probably the USA as well) with a simple grounded antenna, e.g., to have light in the garden shed. Of course, that reduces the signal strength substantially and - in Germany - they had a special type of cop tracking these so-called power thieves down with quite some success, rooting out that behavior before the mid-1960s. Sadly, most Germans seem to have forgotten that and it is somewhat embarrassing that the student gets so much attention for re-inventing power theft. If he would directly tap into the line, he would at least be energy-efficient... a sad day for German engineering!
adzhitenov
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2013
Alright, I've seen enough. Look:

1.) The physics behind this device are extremely simple. There is likely no complex theory involved in this that has not been around for at least a century now, aside from perhaps the electronics intended to maximize the efficiency of the device.

2.) Forget about "holes" in E-fields, "energy paths", and resistances and impedances. Do real physics. See (3).

3.) A change in magnetic flux induces electromotive force (EMF)- essentially, voltage. Voltage creates a flow of current. Moving charges -currents- create magnetic field. Thus, an induced EMF creates a magnetic field that opposes the direction of the original change in flux.

4.) This device would thus affect the power supplied by power companies. It would be miniscule, if done on this scale.

5.) Conservation of energy would indeed be violated outside of the limits allowed by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle if (4) were not true.
archie4549
not rated yet Feb 24, 2013
This little gem, so configured, may be exactly what we need. We recently discovered the need for a wireless recharging apparatus the will regenerate a low voltage battery, while fastened to a child's wristband while they sleep. By day the battery operates an intermittent transmitter, that monitors interaction with threatening social interaction ie bullying and abuse. It has been called the Trinity Child-Safe Bracelet.
The minor offset from any source that indirectly powers this device would be quickly absorbed through the positive contribution to a safer society in general.
ross_pearce
not rated yet Feb 25, 2013
Don't the currently have battery operated tooth brushes that recharge in much the same way without making a physical connection to the charging station? I think my son's PS3 charges the same way but I could be wrong.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2013
What the sucking of signal with antenna does illustrates the story of Königs Wusterhausen transmitter. The transmitter was a large transmission facility for longwave, mediumwave and shortwave near Königs Wusterhausen, southeast of Berlin, Germany, which was established in 1915. On December 22, 1920, the first transmission of music and speech was made there in the longwave range. But they weren't able to achieve full power long time, until someone realized the reason.
malikjunaidhassan
not rated yet Mar 03, 2013
If I was Samsung, I would hire this guy or buy his product/idea ASAP and launch the wireless charging device from thin air!