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 of Bristol, UK, hope that within five years it could be powering devices such as heart monitors and mobile phones. Currently the team is exploring how vibrations caused by machines such as helicopters and trains could be used to produce power, but vibrations from household appliances and the movement of the human body could also be harnessed for this purpose.

“Vibration energy-harvesting devices use a spring with a mass on the end,” explains Burrow. “The mass and spring exploit a phenomenon called - the production of a large vibration in one object as a direct result of a relatively small vibration in another object - to amplify small vibrations, enabling useful energy to be extracted. Even just a few milliwatts can power small like a heart rate monitor or an engine temperature sensor, but it can also be used to recharge power-hungry devices likeMP3 players or mobile phones.”

Existing devices can only exploit vibrations that have a narrow range of frequencies, so if the vibrations don’t occur at the right frequency, very little power can be produced. This is a big problem in applications like transport or human movement where the frequency of vibrations changes all the time.

The Bristol team is therefore developing a new device where the mass and spring resonate over a much wider range of frequencies. This would enable a much wider range of vibrations to be exploited and so increase the overall contribution that energy harvesting could make to energy supplies. The team believes it can achieve this by exploiting the properties of non-linear springs which allow the energy harvester to respond to a wider range of frequencies.

Energy harvesters generate low-level power on a similar scale to batteries but without the need for battery replacement or disposal of potentially dangerous and polluting chemicals. They are also suited to applications where hard-wiring would be impracticable, vulnerable to damage, or difficult to access for maintenance purposes.

“There’s a huge amount of free, clean energy out there in the form of vibrations that just can’t be tapped at the moment,” says Burrow. “Wider-frequency energy harvesters could make a valuable contribution to meeting our energy needs more efficiently and sustainably.”

Explore further: Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

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

Apr 18, 2014

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 : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

sender
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
I'd like to see photocatalytic piezo-substrates made for such resonance applications.

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...