Think of it as an energy-producing Bug Zapper. But rather than enticing and systematically destroying curious insects, this harvesting device gathers unused wave energy (ala microwave, Wi-Fi, satellite signals) and tunes them for useful applications.
While gathering energy in such a manner has been done before, researchers at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering have begun implementing ‘special materials’ in the process, leading to an energy conversion efficiency rate that puts previous results to shame.
Using a series of five fiberglass copper energy conductors wired together on a circuit board, the new device in question converts waves into 7.3V of electrical energy (whereas a USB chargers, for example, provide about 5V of power).
This translates to an energy conversion rate of up to 37%, placing the device at parity with current solar cell technology (as a basis of comparison, previous experiments maxed out at conversion rates of 6%-10%).
What makes all the difference is the use of metamaterials. These simply-engineered structures lacking any properties found in nature (the name refers to “material beyond the imagination…think Genetic Engineering for Materials Science), allow for highly efficient energy capture from various forms of waves.
“It’s possible to use this design for a lot of different frequencies and types of energy, including vibration and sound energy harvesting,” added researcher Alexander Katko. “Until now, a lot of work with metamaterials has been theoretical. We are showing that with a little work, these materials can be useful for consumer applications.”
The concept is quite heady, but the potential uses are abundant. One such example is applying metamaterial coating to a ceiling in order to redirect and recover a lost Wi-Fi signal, or improving the efficiency of household appliances by wirelessly recovering power that was lost during use.
Beyond that, there is a very real possibility that additional modifications could allow for the metamaterial to be used in cell phone production, leading to a future where your phone can recharge wirelessly while not in use.
Not only is this a massive energy saver, it also enables those without ready access to conventional power sources to harvest energy from cell phone towers instead, a huge benefit to growing nations that lack infrastructure to support their expanding, technologically-reliant populations.
“Our work demonstrates a simple and inexpensive approach to electromagnetic power harvesting,” stated lead investigator Steven Cummer, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. “The beauty of the design is that the basic building blocks are self-contained and additive. One can simply assemble more blocks to increase the scavenged power.”
Well, the future of energy efficiency looks bright….just dont fly haphazardly into the light. – A random bug