Georgia Tech researcher Manos Tentzeris holding
up one of his inkjet-printed antennas.
What’s the News: With all of the electronics cluttering our daily lives, the air is abuzz with ambient electromagnetic energy from sources like cell phone networks, radio and television transmitters, and satellite communications systems. Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have devised a simple, cheap way to harness that wasted energy: capturing it with inkjet-printed antennas and storing it in batteries.
How the Heck:
- Electrical engineer Manos Tentzeris and his team created an ink mixture containing nanoparticles of silver, which, as a conductor, is useful for building circuits. Using an inkjet printer, they printed radio frequency components and circuits onto paper and flexible plastic.
- The printed antennas receive a wide range of frequencies—100 MHz to 60 GHz (that is, all the way from FM radio to radar). The researchers installed the antennas in miniature devices that collect the energy, convert it to DC power, and store it in capacitors or batteries.
- In a test, described at the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium, the team’s “self-powered, wireless paper-based sensor” was able to run a temperature sensor by capturing energy from a television station a third of a mile away, according to a Georgia Tech news release. By absorbing multiple frequencies at once, the researchers expect to be able to power many small electronic devices, like microcontrollers, the tiny computers that control automated processes in cars.
The Future Holds: The researchers point to an array of possible applications for their device. Perhaps the most obvious use is powering various detectors of anything from explosives in airports to chemicals indicating spoilage in canned foods to signs of structural stress in buildings and homes. The team also thinks that the energy-scavenging device could augment solar-powered batteries, or be used as a backup power source that allows electronics to maintain critical functions when their normal power source, be it the sun or a battery, drops off.
Image: Gary Meek/Georgia Tech Research News