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Developing Energy Harvesting Technology

MicroGen Systems, Inc. is a developer of MEMS-based energy harvesting devices and has utilized a SmartShaker™ from The Modal Shop during development. The company is partnering with other commercial developers to tailor the energy harvesting technology to different automotive and industrial applications. 

Energy harvesting (also known as power harvesting or energy scavenging) is the process by which energy from external sources (for example mechanical vibration, solar power, thermal energy, wind energy, salinity gradients and kinetic energy), is captured and utilized to power electrical devices. Use of MEMS technology to build the harvester offers a small form factor and low cost structure, which is ideal for powering small, wireless autonomous devices, like those used in wearable electronics, and wireless sensors and sensor networks. 

Tire makers, for example, are developing wireless sensors for the inside lining of a tire to monitor tire and road conditions. Extending the battery life or directly powering these systems by harvesting vibrations in the tire is of great interest, due to the difficulty in changing the battery of the embedded sensor. Automakers are also interested in harvesting vibrations in other locations of the vehicle to power sensors, as it allows for a reduction in necessary wiring, and therefore, a reduction in vehicle weight. 

"We have shown that MicroGen Systems' vibrational energy harvesting technology can be used to power a wide variety of wireless sensors and radio frequency (RF) transmitters, including temperature and pressure sensors used in buildings and factories, tire pressure sensor monitoring systems for automotives, and low power liquid crystal displays," says Kathleen Vaeth, VP Engineering, MicroGen Systems, Inc.

An additional application for MicroGen's vibrational energy harvesting technology is in powering sensors used to monitor industrial equipment - MicroGen's BOLT™ family of products. A piece of machinery can produce a steady vibration at characteristic frequencies, and MicroGen can design the harvester's resonant frequency to match that characteristic vibration. The energy collected can then be used to charge a battery and/or power the industrial monitoring equipment. During the development of MicroGen's resonant frequency-driven BOLT™energy harvesting product, the K2007E01 SmartShaker was used extensively in device characterization. 

"One of the things that is attractive about using the SmartShaker along with PCB piezoelectric accelerometers is that it is NIST traceable. We have to know that the operational frequency we tell our industrial customer that the harvester operates at is accurate," Vaeth adds. 

Watch this video of the SmartShaker being used in this application.

Watch this video of the energy harvester technology in 'impact mode'.