5 Energy-Harvesting Technologies to Watch in 2017

As devices get smaller and demand for energy to power our gadgets increases, energy harvesting is becoming the way forward to help supplement battery power or lose the need for it altogether.
  • energy harvesting, solar, green, wearables, consumer electronics

    Motion Energy Harvesters

    Many of the wearable devices on the market today are fitness trackers and others aimed at health applications, which makes them well-suited to be powered by human motion. To that end, researchers are devising a number of ways to generate mechanical energy from movements of the human body not only in standalone devices but also by integrating technology into fabrics. One example of the latter, shown, is fabric that can simultaneously harvest energy from both sunshine and motion, developed by a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Others have created purely motion-generated harvesters. Expect new technologies to emerge in this area in 2017, especially as wearables become more plentiful and popular with consumers. (Source: Georgia Institute of Technology)

  • energy harvesting, solar, green, wearables, consumer electronics

    Thermal Energy Harvesters


    Everyone knows that solar panels generate energy from sunlight. But they also will start generating energy from the sun’s heat thanks to work that’s being done on thermal-energy harvesting. One such effort is out of Purdue University, where researchers developed a concept for a hybrid system they said has the potential to reach 50% energy efficiency. The system combines two different ways to harvest energy from sunlight -- one from light and one from heat -- as well as includes a way to generate that energy into electricity, and store it for future use. Expect more of this type of work in 2017 as part of a number of efforts to make solar-energy generation more efficient. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

  • energy harvesting, solar, green, wearables, consumer electronics

    Triboelectric Nanogenerators, or TENG


    Triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) use what’s called the triboelectric effect to generate electricity. This effect, the principle behind static electricity, happens between two materials that repeatedly touch each other and then separate, exchanging electrons and building up a charge. Researchers have been using this type of energy harvesting in small devices that can be used to power small medical devices, such as heart monitors, the design of which is shown in this graphic. Engineers also have created hybrid energy harvesters that use the TENG to harvest the movement caused by wind energy combined with a solar cell. Researchers will unveil more advancements in this type of energy harvesting in 2017. (Source: Georgia Institute of Technology)

  • energy harvesting, solar, green, wearables, consumer electronics

    Radio-Frequency Wave Harvesting

    Researchers have been working for a number of years to make harvesting energy from radio-frequency (RF) wave signals emitted by television and cellular transmissions. Recently, a team led by Professor Salman Durrani (pictured) from the Australia National University Research School of Engineering made a breakthrough in making this technology more viable by accurately modeling how much energy it takes to sense and transfer information by wireless sensors.  This work complements existing work like that of a team from the University of Washington and Delft University of Technology, which has developed a computing platform that harvests energy from RF waves rather than using a battery. The work by Durrani's team can make it more efficient to use the RF signal-harvested energy. Researchers likely will continue efforts like this to improve this method of energy harvesting in 2017. (Source: Australia National University)

  • energy harvesting, solar, green, wearables, consumer electronics

    Small Solar Cells


    Everyone knows solar energy is effective for providing electricity through the use of solar panels. But what’s emerging from the labs is solar-energy-generating technology on a much smaller scale than can be used in fabrics and in other applications to harvest sunlight and provide power for devices on the go. Researchers in China, for example, have developed a polymer solar cell textile that can harvest energy from either side, while researchers in Korea have designed something similar with an ultra-thin solar cell flexible enough to wrap around a pencil.  Meanwhile, a company based in Brooklyn is working with fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger to integrate solar panels into clothing. Except to find more solar energy in unexpected places in 2017. (Source: Fudan University)


As devices get smaller and smaller and the demand for energy to power our gadgets increases, energy harvesting is becoming the way forward to help supplement battery power or lose the need for it altogether. Energy harvesting also is a good way to generate energy for a device when a battery is drained and there’s not a power outlet in sight.

Generally researchers are eyeing energy-harvesting to power ultra-low-power devices, wearable technology, and other things that don’t need a lot of power or don’t come in a battery-friendly form factor. Here are a few of the energy-harvesting technologies that will continue to evolve on their way to broader adoption in 2017.

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look aheadThe new year is here and already proving to offer significant opportunities and advances on 2016. Before you dive to deeply into 2017, prepare yourself for what will surely be an innovative year with more stories from Design News' " Look Ahead: 7 Areas of Advancing Engineering Opportunity in 2017 " article series.


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