MIT researchers create novel way of capturing everyday electricity

Developers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published the results of a study on July 9 that explored the potential for small devices capable of gathering energy from external heat, natural light and room vibrations.

According to campus-based information source MITnews, research professor Anantha Chandrakasan and his team of scientists were building upon previous efforts that looked into ways to power electronics with very low levels of energy. The most recent initiative, funded in part by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), focused on a processing chip designed to capture the background power around it.

"Energy harvesting is becoming a reality," Chandrakasan told the news source. "The key here is the circuit that efficiently combines many sources of energy into one."

According to the researchers, previous technology allowed the multi-faceted absorption process to take place, but different types of energy could be captured by switching between sources, for example from sunlight to friction. The other part of the problem Chandrakasan and his team faced was the energy consumed during the process. If the device did not store more power than it spent, the project would be fruitless.

The solution lay in a dual-path design for the power chip, which dispensed with a power storage framework and instead channeled the latent energy directly into the processor it was meant to charge. While the problem of long-term capacity remains, this chip opens the door for the creation of products like outdoor sensors that rely on the environment for energy, or exterior lighting fixtures that can save homeowners on potentially high electricity bills.

Future experiments involve the enlargement of the chip and the potential use of multiple components to test the efficiency of the flow of power. While the final outcome remains to be seen, these tests could lead to sources of truly renewable energy.

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