Mini harvester produces electricity from a gentle breeze
Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have created a device that can harness energy from wind and store it as electricity.
When exposed to winds with a velocity as low as two metres per second (m/s), the device can produce a voltage of three volts and generate electricity power of up to 290 microwatts, which is sufficient to power a commercial sensor device and for it to also send the data to a mobile phone or a computer. The light and durable device, called a wind harvester, also diverts any electricity that is not in use to a battery, where it can be stored to power devices in the absence of wind.
The invention reportedly has the potential to replace batteries in powering light emitting diode (LED) lights and structural health monitoring sensors. Those are used on urban structures, such as bridges and skyscrapers, to monitor their structural health, alerting engineers to issues such as instabilities or physical damage. Measuring 15 x 20 cm, the device can be mounted on the sides of buildings and would be suitable for urban environments, such as Singaporean suburbs, where average wind speeds are approximately less than 2.5 m/s. The research findings were published in the scientific peer-reviewed journal Mechanical Systems and Signal Processing.
Professor Yang Yaowen from NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who led the project, said that wind generation has attracted extensive research attention, as a renewable and clean energy source. “Our research aims to tackle the lack of a small-scale energy harvester for more targeted functions, such as to power smaller sensors and electronic devices. The device we developed also serves as a potential alternative to smaller lithium-ion batteries, as our wind harvester is self-sufficient and would only require occasional maintenance, and does not use heavy metals, which, if not disposed of properly, could cause environmental problems,” Yaowen said.
The study presents an innovation that could help cut down on electronic waste and find alternative sources of energy. The device was developed to harness efficient wind energy at low cost and with low wear and tear. Its body is made of fibre epoxy, a highly durable polymer, with the main attachment that interacts with the wind and is made of copper, aluminium foil and polytetrafluoroethylene, a durable polymer that is also known as Teflon. Due to the dynamic design of its structure, when the harvester is exposed to wind flow it begins to vibrate, causing its plate to approach to and depart from the stopper. This causes charges to be formed on the film, and an electrical current is formed as they flow from the aluminium foil to the copper film.
In laboratory tests, the NTU-developed harvester could power 40 LEDs consistently at a wind speed of 4 m/s. It could also trigger a sensor device, and power it sufficiently to send the room temperature information to a mobile phone wirelessly. This demonstrates that the harvester can generate electricity to consistently power a device, while storing the excess charge that is sufficient to keep the device powered for an extended period in the absence of wind.
“Wind energy is a source of renewable energy. It does not contaminate, it is inexhaustible and reduces the use of fossil fuels, which are the origin of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Our invention has been shown to effectively harness this sustainable source of energy to charge batteries and light LEDs, demonstrating its potential as an energy generator to power the next generation of electronics, which are smaller in size and require less power,” Yang said.
The NTU team will conduct further research to improve the energy storage functions of their device, as well as experiment with different materials to improve its output power. The research team is also in the process of filing for a patent with NTUitive, the university’s innovative enterprise company.
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