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Harvesting ambient energy will power IoT, scientists say

Stray, ambient magnetic fields that are naturally created from electricity usage should be captured, diverted, and converted into power for Internet of Things sensors, researchers say.

“Just like sunlight is a free source of energy we try to harvest, so are magnetic fields,” said Shashank Priya, professor of materials science and engineering and associate vice president for research at Penn State, in a statement published on the university’s web site. “We have this ubiquitous energy present in our homes, office spaces, work spaces and cars. It’s everywhere, and we have an opportunity to harvest this background noise and convert it to useable electricity.”

Electricity produces tiny magnetic fields around common power cables, computers and lighting found in factories, homes and offices. That energy, if harnessed, could power sensors and small data-sending radios, the academics think. Penn State is attempting to design ambient power receptors for IoT.

Materials science

The group at Penn State has been having some success getting it to work. Experimental devices that are thin and about 1.5 inches long are being tested. Placing the capture-device around or on common appliances does produce electricity, the researchers claim. The key is to put the device where the magnetic field is the strongest. In one experiment, the researchers were able to generate enough power to run 180 LED lighting arrays with a device placed about 4 inches from a space heater. At 8 inches, the device produced enough electricity to operate a clock.

“These results provide significant advancements toward sustainable power for integrated sensors and wireless communication systems,” said Min Gyu Kang, an assistant research professor at Penn State and joint lead author of the study.

Electricity and magnetism have always gone hand in hand. Magnetism is created by a moving electric charge. It’s that movement which creates the magnetic field. That’s why low-level magnetism is manifested in electrical wires generally, for example—the electricity is moving along the cable.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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