Kinetic energy harvesters that could power electronic devices simply by walking have been in the hopper for a while now, and it finally seems to be on the verge of breaking into the commercial market. That means, in the near future, anybody with a cell phone, iPAD or any other electronic device will never have to worry about batteries again. At least, not as long as they keep moving. A research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has come up with an energy-harvesting device that captures the clean, renewable energy generated by practically anyone merely walking down the street – a democratic approach to power if there ever was one.
Converting Kinetic Energy to Electricity through Electrowetting
The new technology is based on a previous Wisconsin U. development in the field of “electrowetting.” Electrowetting is a means of converting mechanical energy to electricity by using thousands of tiny liquid droplets that interact with a nano-engineered substrate. The new technology, which comes under the general heading of microfluidics (the study of how fluids behave on a micro or nano-scale), could be embedded in shoes or boots to capture energy that would otherwise be lost as heat. The researchers estimate that it could generate up to 20 watts of electrical power, more than enough to power standard portable electronic devices.
The Knights Who Say Knee! to Kinetic Energy
Shoe-based kinetic energy harvesters are also under development at Louisiana Tech University, and other technologies for mobile renewable energy harvesting are also moving forward. Canadian soldiers have been testing a device that is mounted on a carbon fiber knee brace, consisting of a gearbox and generator. Across the pond, the University of Leeds has been studying the range of potentials for harvesting kinetic energy from soldiers on the march, and researchers at the University of Bolton have developed a lightweight fiber that could harvest energy from the elements as well as kinetic energy from body movements.
Clean Power for Portable Electronics
Kinetic energy is not the only kind of clean, renewable energy that can be generated on the go. Add an element of miniaturization to the solar power backpacks currently being tested by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and you’ve got the makings of a sea change in the way we generate and use power for our portable electronics. The electronics user of the future will be far less dependent on batteries, and will contribute far less to the carbon footprint involved in manufacturing and disposing of batteries.
Image: Walking person by 050com on flickr.com.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.