Inkject-Printed Antenna Gathers Ambient Energy from TV Transmissions

By Joseph Castro | July 15, 2011 1:14 pm

spacing is importantGeorgia 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.

(via Popular Science, Georgia Tech Research News)

Image: Gary Meek/Georgia Tech Research News

  • Cathy

    Great stuff comes out of GA Tech. Sometimes I regret turning down my acceptance there… I wonder how different my life would have been?

    This seems like it’d only be useful for extremely low powered apps, but I wonder if it could also be applied to stuff like spacecraft. There’s a ton of electromagnetic energy in space, after all, and it might be more sustainable for extreme long distances than thermal nuclear devices.

  • richard

    What is this technology officially called? I’ve seen a youtube video [free electricity; user: youthbe2007], originally from metacafe, where you can collect energy from the air with an antenna to generate electricity. Is it the radiant energy that Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) discovered? Thanks in advance

  • Maximzodal

    At the risk of sounding like a lecture, the questions were asked, all radio and TV stations, WiFi transmitters, public and business radio, radar, microwave transmitters, etc. generate radio frequencies; RF. All useful RF is always a specific frequency!! The energy available in the RF “signal” is dependent on the power of the transmitter and the distance between the transmitter and receiver. Well, there are other factors but these two are the most important. Except for microwave transmitters and radar, most radio frequencies are transmitted in a spherical pattern from the transmitter antenna. On the other hand, a tesla coil typically transmits at all frequencies. Play with one and your neighbors are likely to not be amused. In any case, the vast majority of RF energy is unavoidably untapped and dissipated.

    “Free energy” circuits that harvest RF energy, like this one purports to do, have been around forever. The usual problem with them is that they can only be optimized for specific frequencies. Years ago, I built a circuit much like the one featured in the youtube video mentioned above to tap the RF from an AM Radio station and transmitter about 200 meters from where I worked. With a hollow core tunable antenna tuned to the transmitter’s broadcast frequency, it worked very well! Theoretically, with a large enough antenna, I could have harvested a lot of energy. But, the energy I collected would be energy receivers further away would not, something the radio station, and the FCC, would not have tolerated:-)

    Of course a couple of paragraphs is only going to be a general discussion. There is a lot more to all this!!

    If the antenna discussed in this article is able to optimally receive many frequencies, it could be a big thing. Would love to have more detail on it.

  • PersonalJesus

    Where is Nikola Tesla when you need him?

  • Kevin N

    There is indeed a lot of electromagnetic energy in space that satellites can utilize–sunlight, which they already capture.

  • Georg

    The season right now (mid-summer) is called “time of sour cucumbers”
    in Germany. This expression comes from press/radio/TV , it is about the lack
    of “stories” in this time.
    If You know about this effect, You can place Your cucumbers in press/TV
    with much more success than at other seasons.

  • fred


    Carrier-powered radio

    Microwave power transmission (MPT)

    Wireless energy transfer or wireless power

    BBC successfully sued a Droitwich farmer for stealing power. He was milking his cows courtesy their long wave transmitter

    This article reminded me of some interesting links I gathered when I was researching a similar topic. Makes for some great reading for those interested in wireless power.

  • proofreader

    is “Inkject” in the headline a typo?


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