No Batteries Required: Automobile Instruments Harvest Energy from Road Vibration to Keep Sensors Running

Article ID: 579462

Released: 9-Aug-2011 1:20 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: Cornell University

Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – Your little deuce coupe, hot rod Lincoln or pink Cadillac gets a small boost of energy, as tiny sensors in your automobile can now harvest constant power from road vibration instead of replacing batteries.

MicroGen Systems Inc., of Ithaca, and Cornell University’s Cornell Nanoscale Facility, have collaborated to develop battery-free sensors that can operate in anything that spins, rolls, jiggles or shakes, like car tires and clothing dryers.

The battery device is a tiny sheet of a piezoelectric material that generates electricity when mounted on a shock-resistant base and it is flexed. Vibration like a spinning automobile wheel causes the tiny flap to swing back and forth, generating current that charges an adjacent thin-film battery. The prototype – about the size of a quarter – puts out up to 200 microwatts. As circuits become smaller and need less power, the device can shrink with them.

Several companies have already expressed interest in MicroGen’s energy harvester technology.

Robert Andosca, president of MicroGen was first drawn to New York by research funding made available by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Paul Mutolo, director of external partnerships for the university’s Energy Materials Center (emc2), helped bring MicroGen to Ithaca, to be close to Cornell.

To refine the technology, Andosca needed the state-of-the-art facilities at the Cornell Nanoscale Facility. “There are 17 of these facilities in the country and Cornell’s facility is one of the two best,” says Andosca. Through the Energy Materials Center, MicroGen obtained startup funding from the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) to support his work at the Cornell Nanoscale Facility. The funding comes from emc2’s part in the NYS Center for Future Energy Systems and is targeted to assisting companies in the energy sector. The funding enabled him to build, test and redesign until he had a product that would meet the industry standard power level for wireless sensor units.

Now MicroGen is working with R. Bruce van Dover, professor of materials science and engineering, to refine the technology, particularly to develop a version that can withstand high temperatures, aiming for sensors in jet engines.


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