NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, England Ė For those of us working in or around the industry, energy harvesting is something we deal with daily, be it reading articles, learned papers, trade magazines or actually testing something in the lab (and, letís be honest, working out why itís not working!). For the average person however, energy harvesting is something new and certainly not something thatís expected to appear on the front page of the BBC News website.
Last week though, my inbox was inundated with emails from friends sending me a link to this article on energy harvesting. On the front page of BBC News was as an article on energy harvesting that those outside the industry can appreciate, a shake-to-charge AA or AAA battery. Now I know EE Times also covered this development nearly a week before but most of my friends are outside the industry and donít visit this more specialized site.
The idea is simple, anything that is used infrequently, and only needs small power levels, for example a TV remote control, could be powered from AA batteries that charge up after a few swift shakes. Having briefly tried to make something similar in the lab on a Friday afternoon and not got very far, I was really excited to see that Brother Industries Ltd. of Japan is heading down this path.
That was until I read the penultimate paragraph of the BBC article. ďThere are no plans to commercialize the batteries as yet, according to Brother.Ē
That is a shame. I think that most people know that single-use batteries are bad for the environment and that rechargeable ones arenít a lot better, so something like this could be quite widely accepted Ė at the right price. I guess that is probably the issue here, cost rather than acceptance. The fact that this article made it to the front page of a major news outlet is an indication that there is a potential market for this.
If it costs $20 per battery then there isnít much point in releasing it. Hopefully Brother Industries, or someone else, will release this, at a reasonable price, in the not too distant future. In the meantime, articles like this showing up in high exposure places is only going to help those of us working in the industry and hoping to expand the potential applications of the technology. If anyone else has seen articles like this elsewhere please chime in with comments below.
I think it is a really neat idea to charge batteries with a few shakes. I agree that price does become an issue with things like this.
However, I don't think if I agree that rechargeable batteries aren't whole lot better than one single use batteries. The rechargeable batteries eventually die too but at least they aren't replaced as often as single use batteries. If most people start using rechargeable batteries, this will result in less and less batteries being discarded. When we think about something as little as using rechargable batteries in a country like India, where there are 1 billion people, they make a huge impact.
The lads in the office periodically bring up the treadmill in the gym topic. I have a suspicion that it is being developed somewhere, but I maybe wrong. Similar to that though is the night club in Denmark (I think) with a piezoelectric dance floor. It seems that they can generate quite a lot of power to supply parts of the lighting system.
I guess this is all part of a potential shift away from centralised power generation.
I accept with pixies and feel that there is something big that is not explored in the area of energy transformation. Lets imagine if we have an inverter which could be charged by connecting treadmill or any other cardio working out machines. Probably all the gym owners will be jumping to buy these products. Enough power will be generated by the customers itself. Any owners out there want to invest on this one!!!
I believe that size (and cost) are the critical elements. If a device can be designed to get by with less power then the footprint will be reduced by migrating the battery from D to C to AA to AAA to a button battery. For "shake to charge" to be practical, the shake power component needs to be smaller than the backup (e.g. lithium button) battery that would have otherwise been provided. One exception (which also creates marketing buzz) is rarely used emergency devices in remote locations - such as the Red Cross emergency radios which are available with a hand powered option. Finally, rechargeable batteries typically have a poor life expectancy; the rarely used "shake to recharge" feature may fail because the battery can no longer hold a charge. Where footprint is available, solar cells are an alternative energy harvesting technology that provide electric power directly. (Of course, "shake to wind" watch bypass battery problems by using mechanical energy to wind a mechanical spring.)
Shake to charge batteries are indeed a great idea. If they can incorporate a normal rechargeable battery along with shake to recharge, it could be used for high volume applications also. For eg. How many times, a cell phone had died on us, when we need to make an urgent voice call. If we can shake the phone for 2 mins, and use the phone for another 3 mins, wouldnt it be nice?
I also expect the total available market for this device, those applications with a very low duty cycle such as remote controls, is relatively small. But I agree with Simon that people are becoming more away of the harmful and unsustainable nature of batteries.
I bet it is the cost that prohibit the commercialization, at least for now. Also I have always imagined a treadmill powered TV. It will save energy and keep people fit at the same time. Somebody should work on it. :)
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