Good vibes bring in the energy harvest

Vibrating machinery could be used to supply electricity, following the development of a harvesting system that scavenges power from motion. The vibration can be harnessed to reduce energy consumption by providing fuel for sensors, lights and small microprocessing motors.

The system, designed by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is made from a combination of piezoelectric and magneto-elastic material, making it able to collect energy from the vibrations of machinery.

It is ideal in places such as on pumps within nuclear reactors where it is expensive to run a power cable to the device. Though these can also be powered by batteries, using harvested energy avoids the danger of sending in technicians to change them, said MIT researcher Robert O’Handley, who set up spin-out company Ferro Solutions to develop the technology with colleague JK Huang.

Power from the system can also be used in wireless applications that transmit the sensors’ findings, he said.

‘The harvester can be the size of a fist or smaller, and there is no limit on how large it can be. A small harvester would work well on aggressively vibrating machinery, but if the harvester were made large enough, it could be used to dampen the sound of the vibration by weighing down the machine.’

The type of material used to create the system depends on the temperature of the operating area and the frequency of the vibration. The harvester is bolted to the vibrating device, and the amount of energy it can collect depends on the size and frequency of the vibration.

The US Navy has provided funds to Ferro Solutions because it is interested in using the system to power some on-board devices, as delivering fresh batteries to systems is not always convenient.

As the system means sensors do not require power lines or battery replacement they could be designed to be embedded deep within structures.