Auto Gains Energy from Road Vibrations

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 @ 02:08 PM gHale

Instead of constantly replacing batteries, tiny sensors in your automobile may soon be able to harvest constant power from road vibration.

Battery-free sensors that can operate in anything that spins, rolls, jiggles or shakes, like car tires and clothing dryers are now under development at MicroGen Systems Inc., of Ithaca, NY, and Cornell University’s Cornell Nanoscale Facility.

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The battery device is a tiny sheet of a piezoelectric material that generates electricity when mounted on a shock-resistant base and it is able to flex. 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.

To refine the technology, Robert Andosca, president of MicroGen 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,” Andosca said. 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 the university’s Energy Materials Center’s part in the NYS Center for Future Energy Systems and targets 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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