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Power Technology

MIT Researchers Create New Tiny Energy Harvester 101

RogerRoast writes "Researchers at MIT have designed a device the size of a U.S. quarter that harvests energy from low-frequency vibrations, such as those that might be felt along a pipeline or bridge. The tiny energy harvester — known technically as a microelectromechanical system, or MEMS — picks up a wider range of vibrations than current designs, and is able to generate 100 times the power of devices of similar size."
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MIT Researchers Create New Tiny Energy Harvester

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  • by outsider007 ( 115534 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @08:28AM (#37408300)

    But I fear that advances in vibrator technology will leave me at even more of a disadvantage.

    • This is no vibrator. This is taking energy out of vibrations. Therefore it's an anti-vibrator.

      • I can see where certain manufacturers would be very unwilling to buy into this technology. :]
      • An anti-vibrator would be a shock absorber. This is just a vibratee.
        • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

          Actually its more of a shock transformer.

          Law of conservation of energy says that any electrical energy to come from such a device must be AT MOST the amount of shock that it absorbs, minus losses (heat, friction, etc).

          Now the amount of vibrational energy that it absorbs may be such a tiny fraction as to not rise to the level of being a detectable amount in most real world situations. However, thermodynamics assures you that it does, and should you devise a test that proves otherwise, you may be up for a nob

      • So if you put one of those next to an actual vibrator, will they annihilate one another?
  • In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!
  • MEMS (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @08:32AM (#37408318)

    MEMS actually refers to any microscopic-scale electromechanical device, such as microscopic motors or other such devices, and not specifically to the device described in TFA.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      A quarter of the US is hardly microscopic.
      Or could they mean something else? Might help to be a bit more clear for us ignorant furriners.

  • Finally, through the use of a hybrid regenerative powertrain, it might be possible to make Harleys as fast as other motorcycles! :-P

    • Harleys don't need to be fast. They just need to look and sound like Harleys.
    • Yes, but a quiet Harley will never sell.
    • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by formfeed ( 703859 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @10:08AM (#37409120)

      Finally, through the use of a hybrid regenerative powertrain, it might be possible to make Harleys as fast as other motorcycles! :-P

      Not possible. As part of their campaign against perpetuum mobiles the physics society passed a law that taking energy out of a vibration will also dampen the vibration. In other words: A fixed Harley would neither feel nor sound like a Harley. Which defeats the point of owning a Harley, one might as well buy a decent motorcycle.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Funny but do you realize that for road use an CBR1000RR, ZX10x, R1, or GSR1000 are actually less logical than a lot of Harley's.
      Harley's tend to be more comfortable and get better fuel milage than sports bikes. And in the US at least for street use the Harley is fast enough to get tossed in jail.

      I am not a Harley riders btw I am more of a Sport touring, adventure touring, standard kinda rider.

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        Riding a giant vibrator is comfortable?
        At least the sports bikes tend not to leak oil. First time I saw a Harley I thought it was a British invention.

        • While the vibration part is still mostly true (rubber mounts have helped, but at the end of the day, it's a Vtwin, and the nature of them is to be a bit rough, particularly when you don't have balance shafts and such), the leaky part is a bit out of date: The latest Evolution motor and the new Revolution motor (The engine in the VRod, which is a radical departure from HD's Revolution) are, by all accounts, fairly good mills.
        • Riding a giant vibrator is comfortable?

          Some women prefer them.

        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          Dude the early 80s called and wants it's prejudice back.
          The Evolution, Revolution, and Twin Cam engines are all good motors and really very oil tight from the factory. All of them use rubber motor mounts now and the big twins have used them for a long time.
          They even make on that I would like the XR1200 is actually a fun and cool bike and the touring bikes are also a good choice if one doesn't want the two wheel car called the Goldwing. I would have to check but I think that every Harley now comes with fuel

  • Great, I always have quarters jingling in my pocket. Now I can create energy, 'and' give my wife something else to whine about. Win-Win.
  • Build one of these into every vibrator sold and we won't need any other power source ever again.

  • If these devices are harnessing energy from the vibrations, wouldn't they also act to dampen the vibrations as well? So if you hooked enough up to siphon off a noticeable amount of energy, you'd also be noticeably extending the life of the pipeline or bridge section in question.
    • This will go far in the field of earthquake prevention,which has been stuck using rams' bladders for that purpose since the fifth century.
    • That was my thought exactly. Couldn't this technology be integrated into muffler systems to generate additional electrical power for hybrid vehicles? Instead of just dampening the sound, you harness it to generate electricity. The car gets quieter and more efficient at the same time. I wonder if this could be applied to motor compartments or built into motor mounts. Also, trains passing by make enormous amounts of vibration that creates an irritating low rumble for those living close to the tracks... t

      • by JSBiff ( 87824 )

        "The car gets quieter and more efficient at the same time."

        But is it worth the added expense to make the car .0001 percent more efficient? Ok, Ok, I made the number up, but the point is, the sound energy of the exhaust from an IC Engine is a pretty small fraction of the overall energy losses. Most of the energy loss is due to normal thermal losses which are unavoidable with a heat engine.

        For further info, read up on the Carnot Theorem [].

        I believe for an internal combustion engine, the "Hot Reservoir" is the g

  • "Designed" is so much more appropriate here than "invented." Cause these "energy harvesters" have been in watches for decades now.
  • Crib notes: what they have is a device that they claim generates 45 microwatts in the lab, from the same artificially efficient frequencies that they belittle other devices for relying on. They don't have a device that generates their target 100 microwatts, not even in the lab, not even at their ideal artificial frequencies.

    So, short summary: they don't have a useful device, and they don't have anything beyond "plans" to make it work.

    The only valid test is deployment. The only valid result is full fun

    • So, short summary: they don't have a useful device, and they don't have anything beyond "plans" to make it work.

      The word "patent" just comes to mind and buzzes around like a....

      Oh, wait.. I don't wanna violate it.

    • Spoken like a true engineer.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        No, a true engineer understand the complete process.

        Spoken like a myopic idiot is more apt.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      yes, because there is nothing between in idea, and a finished on the shelf product. Myopic idiot.

      " the device was able to generate 45 microwatts of power with just a single layer of PZT — an improvement of two orders of magnitude compared to current designs. ":
      So with just 1 layer, they are almost halfway to their goal off 100 microwatts.

      So it better then current devices, it has been built in the lab, this is one 1 layer, and it hasn't been optimized yet.

      I don't understand why you have a problem with

  • Michigan has been working on this very thing for a large government push to embed smarts into bridges. []
    • Michigan has been working on this very thing for a large government push to embed smarts into bridges.

      And stress monitoring for bridges is where this will be most useful: A maintenance free sensor network that warns you about developing cracks and possible failure.

      Much easier than having a guy drive out every two years to flip the bridge over so he can unscrew the bottom and replace the coin battery.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        IF you can install these is bulk, we could capture the waste vibration from roads. assuming 100 microwats, that 1 want for every ten.
        so 1 Watt ever 6 sqr inches.

        • Reminds me of an idea I had about 15 years ago, where you could install similar devices under the dancefloor of a club. Lots of people dancing to banging music = free electricity

        • You're off by 3 orders of magnitude. 1000 microwatts = 1 milliwatt.
  • So, is this another kinetic watch battery, basically?

  • Quote from article and /. post: "...and is able to generate 100 times the power of devices of similar size."

    My addition that explains the subject of this comment: "...but we won't bother to tell you what those devices are."

    WHAT devices that are similar to "that" size "generate" power?

    • Well, the summary says the devices are about the size of an American quarter, so I'm guessing the similar devices are watch batteries.
    • WHAT devices that are similar to "that" size "generate" power?

      Piezoelectric elements are common and can be made in a pretty arbitrary size, most are actually smaller than that device. I guess a regular moving-coil microphone could be made fairly small and would generate power. I've seen some pretty small SMD photodiodes and I'm sure they'd be many other examples that generate power, albeit in tiny amounts.

      Nothing in that article seems too pie in the sky to me, they are talking about a target of 100 microwatts afterall, not charging your iPhone while you go for a jog.

      • Excellent description. Thank you! :)

        I wish they would have just explained themselves in the "press release" in the first place. Ambiguity and mystery are an annoying underlying element in (especially patent-looking) public info release.

  • Why this didn't go in the summary I really don't know.

    • To make /. RTFA?

      Additionally, their target output is “ least 100 microwatts, and that’s what all the electronics guys are asking us to get to,”.

      Neat stuff!

      • Their target output could be 1watt for all I care; it does not mean they will make their target.

      • Why would we RTFA? We can just wait until someone does read it, then we can disagree with them and tell them how they're wrong. Cmon, this is slashdot.
  • The recent trends in the industrial instrumentation world has been to go wireless for many applications. Currently the vast majority of them run on battery. Other options are external supply (so why would you go wireless), or local solar (which doesn't do very well in a dusty plant at all).

    It would be pretty neat if the instrumentation on a plant can harvest their own energy. Certainly saves the maintenance nightmere of having hundreds of lithium batteries at $250 ea going flat on you.

    • Certainly saves the maintenance nightmere of having hundreds of lithium batteries at $250 ea going flat on you.

      I suspect you're quoting the cost of replacement is $250 rather than the battery itself, and I think a lot of people underestimate the cost of labor involved in doing those operations in an industrial environment. Something that takes two minutes on a bench often involves several people, down time, climbing and safety gear and for some applications would actually exceed that amount.

      • And surprisingly enough you'd be wrong. Emerson Lithium batteries for their Smart WirelessHART instruments cost typically around the $270. Bently Nevada wireless probe batteries cost $200+ as well.

        Though you strike a valid point. At our plant just like many multinational companies the control of work process is horrendous. Want to change a battery? Plan the job, schedule the job, print permits, stand outside the control room for an hour waiting for the permit to be issued, then go into the field and spend 5

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      I was thinking if it scales well it could be good for ships and subs. Convert vibrations into electricity vs heat. If they where good enough coat subs with them and have them harvest any sonar pings.

      Yea I know they are probably not that good but it is fun to think about it.

  • This would be NEWS.... or is news, but not technology -- yet. Nearly the last sentence in the article states that it worked: at higher frequencies than are likely to be found and therefore useful at the vibrations available where MEMS devices normally would be used. In other words useful news that matters -- "once the lab techies make it work for real world conditions."
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      They built some, so YES IT"S TECHNOLOGY. it's technology that just isn't in production.

      It's like says the iPhone wasn't technology until they started selling it.

      Just because fewer and fewer people on /. seem to not know what technology is:

      "Technology is the making, usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or serve some purpose."

  • by hey ( 83763 )

    Sure the power is low. But might be useful to add to a cellphone. This device provides some extra power. You'll still need a battery but would have to charge less.

    • Hell, I can perfectly imagine the satisfaction from yelling at the stupid cellphone that does not want to turn on, enough to give it enough power to complete a short call. Of course, it's bothering enough to listen to people shout to their devices as it is, it will be much worse when such devices actually have use for the vibrations.

  • Researchers at MIT have designed a device the size of a U.S. quarter that harvests energy from low-frequency vibrations

    - it's been around for ages. Called 'clitoris', look it up.

  • I'm eating gassy foods to recharge my pacemaker.
  • From the article it states "The researchers calculated that the device was able to generate 45 microwatts of power with just a single layer of PZT ". That indicates to me that they have yet to measure the output of the device. Considering the state of the art of simulations they may not even have built the actual device.

    In the next paragraph they state "the MIT group will have to aim lower in the frequencies they pick up, since few vibrations in nature occur at the relatively high frequency ranges captured

  • Hmm...interesting stuff.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"