Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Shake, rattle and … power up? A new MEMS device generates energy from small vibrations

15.09.2011
Today’s wireless-sensor networks can do everything from supervising factory machinery to tracking environmental pollution to measuring the movement of buildings and bridges. Working together, distributed sensors can monitor activity along an oil pipeline or throughout a forest, keeping track of multiple variables at a time.

While uses for wireless sensors are seemingly endless, there is one limiting factor to the technology — power. Even though improvements have brought their energy consumption down, wireless sensors’ batteries still need changing periodically. Especially for networks in remote locales, replacing batteries in thousands of sensors is a staggering task.

To get around the power constraint, researchers are harnessing electricity from low-power sources in the environment, such as vibrations from swaying bridges, humming machinery and rumbling foot traffic. Such natural energy sources could do away with the need for batteries, powering wireless sensors indefinitely.

Now researchers at MIT have designed a device the size of a U.S. quarter that harvests energy from low-frequency vibrations, such as those that might be felt along a pipeline or bridge. The tiny energy harvester — known technically as a microelectromechanical system, or MEMS — picks up a wider range of vibrations than current designs, and is able to generate 100 times the power of devices of similar size. The team published its results in the Aug. 23 online edition of Applied Physics Letters.

“There are wireless sensors widely available, but there is no supportive power package,” says Sang-Gook Kim, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and co-author of the paper. “I think our vibrational-energy harvesters are a solution for that.”

Putting the squeeze on

To harvest electricity from environmental vibrations, researchers have typically looked to piezoelectric materials such as quartz and other crystals. Such materials naturally accumulate electric charge in response to mechanical stress (piezo, in Greek, means to squeeze or press). In the past few years, researchers have exploited piezoelectric material, or PZT, at the microscale, engineering MEMS devices that generate small amounts of power.

Various groups have gravitated toward a common energy-harvesting design: a small microchip with layers of PZT glued to the top of a tiny cantilever beam. As the chip is exposed to vibrations, the beam moves up and down like a wobbly diving board, bending and stressing the PZT layers. The stressed material builds up an electric charge, which can be picked up by arrays of tiny electrodes.

However, the cantilever-based approach comes with a significant limitation. The beam itself has a resonant frequency — a specific frequency at which it wobbles the most. Outside of this frequency, the beam’s wobbling response drops off, along with the amount of power that can be generated.

“In the lab, you can move and shake the devices at the frequencies you want, and it works,” says co-author Arman Hajati, who conducted the work as a PhD student at MIT. “But in reality, the source of vibration is not constant, and you get very little power if the frequency is not what you were expecting.”

To address the problem, some researchers have taken a “power in numbers” approach, simply increasing the number of cantilever beams and PZT layers occupying a chip. However, Kim and Hajati say this tactic can be wasteful, and expensive.

“In order to deploy millions of sensors, if the energy harvesting device is $10, it may be too costly,” says Kim, who is a member of MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories. “But if it is a single-layer MEMS device, then we can fabricate [the device for] less than $1.”

Bridging the power divide

Kim and Hajati came up with a design that increases the device’s frequency range, or bandwidth, while maximizing the power density, or energy generated per square centimeter of the chip. Instead of taking a cantilever-based approach, the team went a slightly different route, engineering a microchip with a small bridge-like structure that’s anchored to the chip at both ends. The researchers deposited a single layer of PZT to the bridge, placing a small weight in the middle of it.

The team then put the device through a series of vibration tests, and found it was able to respond not just at one specific frequency, but also at a wide range of other low frequencies. The researchers calculated that the device was able to generate 45 microwatts of power with just a single layer of PZT — an improvement of two orders of magnitude compared to current designs.

“If the ambient vibration is always at a single frequency and does not vary, [current designs] work fine,” says Daniel Inman, professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. “But as soon as the frequency varies or shifts a little, the power decreases drastically. This design allows the bandwidth to be larger, meaning the problem is, in principle, solved.” Inman adds that going forward, the MIT group will have to aim lower in the frequencies they pick up, since few vibrations in nature occur at the relatively high frequency ranges captured by the device.

Hajati says the team plans to do just that, optimizing the design to respond to lower frequencies and generate more power.

“Our target is at least 100 microwatts, and that’s what all the electronics guys are asking us to get to,” says Hajati, now a MEMS development engineer at FujiFilm Dimatix in Santa Clara, Calif. “For monitoring a pipeline, if you generate 100 microwatts, you can power a network of smart sensors that can talk forever with each other, using this system.”

Marta Buczek | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>