Anyone who uses a mobile device knows that they are inherently power hogs. Companies have taken notice of this issue and have released a host of contraptions that are capable of recharging those devices, such as small portable battery chargers (Hyper Juice Mini, myCharge Peak, etc.), hand-crank chargers, portable solar panels (Brunton, Goal Zero, etc.), and even a portable thermoelectric generator (Powerpot). What hasn’t been widely capitalized on yet is the harnessing of wind power for recharging mobile devices.
Sure, there are a few, such as HYmini’s micro-wind power generator; however, those are typically the same size of the devices you are looking to recharge. In an effort to bring recharging power using wind energy on a micro-scale level, UT Arlington researchers have designed and developed incredibly small micro-windmills that are capable of recharging smart devices.
To get a perspective on how small these turbines are, they measure 1.8 mm at their widest point and a single grain of rice can hold roughly 10 of them on its tiny shell.
Researchers have designed and developed incredibly small micro-windmills that are capable of recharging smart devices.
(Source: University of Texas at Arlington)
The researcher’s micro-windmill combines MEMS, the Japanese art of origami, and traditional semiconductor device layouts to achieve power generation. They created the tiny power generators using a micro-3D printing technique developed by WinMEMS Technologies, which fabricates the tiny device through planar multilayer electroplating. The durable nickel-based alloy the team used is incredibly strong and maintains a degree of flexibility even when subjected to strong winds, which spin the tiny turbine blades to generate an electrical charge. The art of origami comes into play when deploying the micro-windmills as the structure is inherently 2-dimensional and then "self-unfolds" itself into the 3D windmill shape to harness wind energy.
Much like fabricating CPUs, the micro-windmills can be created in array using the batch process with hundreds or even thousands produced on a single wafer, which makes them relatively inexpensive to make. The researchers envision the tiny devices to be incorporated into a sleeve of sorts that can be deployed from a mobile device case. Users can then wave the sleeve through the air or subject the sleeve to a breeze to recharge their mobile devices.
Power output has not been announced, but I suspect nano-watts. The possibilities are endless, and we are certain to see more companies investing in wind energy harnessing as the technology becomes more efficient and widely known.