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Micro Energy Harvesting

Solving the energy problem on a small scale

It’s a cold dark morning in December 2020…you get out of bed on a Monday morning. The bedroom rug with its integrated generator and sensor system recognizes your “getting up for the work day”, produces energy from your body weight and turns on the bedroom light through a radio command as well as creating a “light pathway” to the bathroom or espresso machine that also warms up on command. A little while later a small turbine in the shower head starts to run, gaining energy from the water flow and passing it on to a small radio sensor system. This, in turn, determines the water temperature and usage, passing along the data to your personal “CO₂ footprint monitor.” You cast a glance at the energy display on your way to the garage and are pleased to discover you still hold the family record for the most energy-efficient showers while quickly slapping on your wrist watch while going out the door. The watch gains energy from the warmth of your wrist. Likewise, the energy that you release when you press the key on your car is harvested to open the vehicle through a  radio command…

Micro Energy Harvesting is the name of the seminal field of research to which Professor Peter Woias, holder of the professorship for the design of microsystems at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Freiburg, dedicates a good part of his work. The aim is to “harvest” electric energy on site from places such as warmth, light, movement or chemical reactions in order to operate tiny embedded microsystems in a self-sufficient manner.  

This technology can be applied to the business sector, medical and building technology as well as for daily use. Wireless and self-powered sensors have already been established in building automation. They measure room temperature and humidity, passing along this information via radio waves. In addition, there are wireless light switches that can be supplied energy by merely pressing the switch. But energy harvesting won’t have a strong impact on your energy bill. Its big advantage is that it eliminates future maintenance costs and battery replacement. In addition, it saves resources by eliminating cable installation.

This aspect is of particular interest in medical technology for battery-operated implants. If they are empty, they have to be replaced through an operation. If microcomputers with particularly low energy requirements and generators for electricity gained from the body are developed, self-sufficient implants can then be manufactured.