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The future of energy harvesting technologies
28 May 2008, Power Electronics / Power Management

The need to minimise maintenance and replacement costs of battery-powered applications is driving developments in energy harvesting technologies that bind renewable and ambient sources of energy.

New analysis from growth consulting company Frost & Sullivan, finds that energy harvesting technologies such as piezoelectric, thermoelectric and others will have potential applications in wireless sensor networks and low-power devices.

"Although micro-level energy harvesting technologies are very new compared to batteries, they can initially be used to recharge batteries and gradually replace them as self-sufficient devices," notes research analyst Arvind Sankaran. "By replacing batteries, these devices eliminate toxic waste from disposed batteries and provide the perfect solution to many countries that are implementing stringent rules to monitor power consumption and environmental waste."

As energy harvesting technologies harness ambient and renewable sources of energy, growing awareness among consumers to use environmental friendly technology further strengthens demand.

"Low output power and below-par efficiency of energy harvesting systems currently limit the application scope of energy harvesting technology," says research analyst Kasthuri Jagadeesan. "It faces difficulty in penetrating the market as it is still in the early prototyping or early commercialisation stage, as opposed to battery technology, which is well established."

Along with developments in materials and control electronics, researchers and manufacturers concentrate their efforts on the exploration of various kinds of energy sources and improve the performance characteristics.

Starting with low-power sensor applications, they can be gradually used to power portable devices and be utilised in buildings for lighting and temperature control. Additionally, improvements in energy harvesting technologies would allow these devices to provide reliable and constant power for industrial, automotive, aerospace, defence and medical applications. "Apart from the development of sophisticated control electronics and materials research, optimising manufacturing techniques and costs can also aid in making the technology cost-effective to the end user," cites Sankaran.

Many academic institutions and companies actively work to push the technology through by tackling various challenges. Some technologies are in the product development stage, while others are on the verge of commercialisation.

Harvesting of solar energy is an example of a well-developed technology that has influenced the development of photovoltaic cells for low-power electronic devices. Other energy harvesting technologies such as electrodynamic, electrostatic and electro active polymers are under investigation.

Although the future looks promising for these emerging eco-friendly energy harvesting technologies, their acceptance in the market depends on many factors. These include their performance metrics, consumer awareness of harnessing ambient energy, funding for R&D and collaboration between manufacturers and technology developers.

For more information contact Patrick Cairns, Frost & Sullivan, +27 (0)21 680 3274,

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