Over the years, we’ve seen researchers develop some rather unorthodox energy harvesting systems, including photovoltaics (solar panels), piezoelectric materials that react to motion, and thermoelectrics that turn heat into electricity.
Now, MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering Anantha Chandrakasan and MIT doctoral student Saurav Bandyopadhyay are working on a chip that can harvest energy from all three of the same sources at the same time.
According to the researchers, the chip can generate up to 0.15 volts from thermal differences, 0.7 volts from natural light, and five volts from vibrations. While each power source only produces a small amount of electricity, the researchers have found a way to effectively combine the energy from all three methods by rapidly switching between them.
A major advantage of the system is that it can pull energy from multiple sources that otherwise produce electricity at unreliable rates. To further increase the system’s efficiency, the scientists also bypassed the need for a battery or capacitor to store the energy for later use. This way, all the energy the system generates goes directly into powering the device it’s connected to.
The MIT researchers imagine that their technology could be incorporated into biomedical monitoring devices or remote environmental sensors. Hopefully the system can also be adapted into a portable device that we can use to recharge our phones and tablets wherever we are.