Set Your Household Appliances to Vibrate and Gather Free Energy

washing machine robot photo

Photo via craigmdennis via Flickr CC

Vibrations from your appliances just might be the next energy source for charging up your handheld devices. Harvesting vibrations is one area Bristol University researchers are exploring as a way to provide free power to homes and businesses. Kinetic energy created by, say, your water kettle or dish washer could power up your MP3 player or other small gadgets, sparing how much stuff you plug into the wall. But it's all dependent on creating a new device that can tap into those vibrations to harvest them.Business Green reports the researchers are looking at harvesting kinetic energy from a new type of harvesting device that uses non-linear spring and mass. The change would allow the device to resonate over a broader frequency range so that the single device can be used for more applications, such as charging small batteries or even monitoring vitals like blood pressure and heart rate on hospital patients.

The researchers state these devices would be more environmentally friendly than using actual batteries for recharging devices, since it lacks polluting chemicals and they would last longer than batteries.

"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. Wider-frequency energy harvesters could make a valuable contribution to meeting energy needs more efficiently and sustainably," said Burrow.

These aren't the only researchers working on utilizing energy harvesting for a range of uses. Reaching into the smart grid scene, wireless microcontroller vendor Jennic has created the ability to send ZigBee information using energy harvested from an electro-mechanical switch. EETimes reports the company had already announced energy harvesting technology demonstrators utilising thermal, vibrational, RF and solar energy harvesting techniques to power end devices in a wireless sensor network, and while an electro-mechanical switch harvester is promising as a way to use small amounts of free energy to send information via ZigBee platform, the company admits it presents many design challenges.

AdaptivEnergy is working on solutions as well, partnering up with GainSpan Corp, a Wi-Fi sensor network technology developer, to combine kinetic energy harvesting with wireless sensors to create battery-less autonomous intelligent sensor networks.

The devices - including those created by AdaptiveEnergy with GainSpan Corp, Jennic, as well as by the researchers at Bristol University - will be of particular help to sensors attached to infrastructure like bridges and buildings, and machinery like engines that need to be monitored for stress, as well as for creating intelligent buildings. But also on the smaller scale, it's interesting to think that while solar chargers are currently the most popular off-grid charging option for gadgets, on overcast days you might turn to your washing machine as a way to keep your handheld gadgets running.

"Even just a few milliwatts can power small electronic devices like a heart rate monitor or an engine temperature sensor, but it can also be used to recharge power-hungry devices like MP3 players or mobile phones," said Dr Stephen Barrow, who is leading the project.

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