Energy Harvesting: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Published by: Srini Chari

It was a new expression for me when a friend mentioned it over lunch. “Energy harvesting.” Recovering and using energy that is typically lost or dissipated in the environment to create a virtually inexhaustible source of energy. What a cool idea. Images of people waving giant devices like butterfly nets to capture energy ran through my head. Oh that it were so simple!

It’s far from simple. As described in an article in EE Times by Erick O. Torres and Gabriel A Ricon-Mora (August 2005), energy could be extracted from vibrations, thermal gradients and light – all of them self-renewing sources – and stored in chip-compatible, rechargeable batteries. The process would require a special charger to accommodate the irregular, random, low-energy bursts of harvested energy. The batteries, in turn, could be used to power electronic devices.

But challenges abound with regard to energy capture, storage and delivery.
Fortunately, Professor Ricon-Mora, of George Institute of Technology, and others continue their research to this day. Ricon-Mora's goal: totally integrated power solutions for portable battery-operated applications – integrated circuits for portable applications, integrated batteries and integrated power components. The systems would be small and compact enough for portability, lightweight, long-lasting, self-powered and self-sustaining They could power consumer electronic devices, implantable biomedical devices and remote space and field meter monitors for military reconnaissance.
President-elect Obama, are you listening?

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