Research and development company Midé Technology Corporation recently released the Volture Piezo Energy Harvester, capable of transforming vibration and strain into enough electrical energy to power sensors and small applications.
The Volture features a piezoelectric component placed inside a patented robust housing. “It’s a type of ceramic material that when strained or when you bend it or push on it, it gives you some electrical energy out,” says Chris Ludlow, director of mechanical engineering for Midé.
“We typically can get on the high-end 10 mW or so continuous output, which doesn’t sound like a whole heck of a lot,” says Ludlow, “but you figure if you have this vibration that is going all the time on a piece of industrial machinery or something, you could store it in a capacitor or a battery for a long period of time.”
The energy capacity of the Volture depends on the amount of vibration energy available and how big the harvester is, but other than that, according to Ludlow, “if you have something the size of a football field and a lot of money, there’s no real upper limit I suppose.” The Volture is about the size of a credit card with a thickness of approximately ¼- to ½-inch.
Ludlow explains that most of the applications for the Volture are used in vehicles, specifically helicopters. “They want to monitor some sensor, a corrosion sensor or a strain sensor somewhere on this aircraft, and they don’t want to run power wires to it for various reasons,” says Ludlow.
Midé has been making the devices for about two years but is now trying to expand their market. “We think that there are tons of applications out there that could use this,” says Ludlow, “and we’ve been busy the last six months to a year or so just trying to find those applications.”
Other methods of energy harvesting include inductive and electromagnetic. Other companies working on energy harvesting are Pharaoh and Perpetuum.
Applications for piezoelectric energy harvesters include sensors, bridge sensors, corrosion sensors and wireless sensors for clusters and networks. One application was published in the Institute of Physics Electronic Journals: Smart Materials and Structures by students from Michigan Technical University and Arizona State University along with NanoSonic Inc, which developed a backpack that uses piezoelectric components in the shoulder straps to transform ambient energy into electricity.