Can I use vibration energy harvesting to power my smart devices?
A question we at ReVibe receive quite a lot...
Throughout the years, one of the most frequently asked questions that we receive starts with 4 specific words: “Can you power a….?”. The ending of that question varies, and can be anything from “Can you power a car?” to “Can you power an iPhone?” depending on the person that asks the question. And we do of course understand why the question is posed so often as the concept of using “free” energy from movements and vibrations seems fantastic and extremely exciting for anyone who haven’t come in contact with vibration energy harvesting in the past.
Sadly, our answers to all of the questions above are no. And the reason for this is that vibration energy harvesting doesn’t provide enough power for power hungry applications such as the ones mentioned above. So is that it? Is there no potential for using vibration energy harvesting to power things we might use in our everyday lives? Well, both yes and no. Let us explain a bit better below.
Good vibrations needed for vibration energy harvesting
Let us start by looking at vibration energy harvesting. Where can it be used and what is necessary to get some useful power out of the units?
Ideal applications for Vibration Energy Harvesting are found in environments where the vibrations are continuous. And continuous can in this case be defined as when the frequency of the vibration is somewhat consistent and the acceleration (strength) of the vibration stays fairly constant. The reason for these requirements is that all vibration energy harvesting units are tuned for one predefined frequency and if the frequency in the application, will not match the predefined frequency of the harvester. And this, unfortunately, does not match applications that we normally relate to consumers such as running or walking.
Luckily (for us working with vibration energy harvesting), applications like this are found in a lot of industrial applications where machines and vehicles are designed to be running in a certain way and thus emits a continuous vibration. And the energy that our units are able to generate is plenty enough to power most wireless monitoring systems and IoT applications in the marketplace today. If you want to learn more about what type of systems and how we actually do it, head over to our article about Vibration Energy Harvesting in industrial environments.
Bad vibrations for consumer applications
As explained above, vibration energy harvesting is not ideal for consumer applications as we people simply do not move consistently enough. When we are out running, our natural frequencies (that amount of movements per second) differs from person to person as we all run in different ways – and this results in the fact that vibration energy harvesting is not ideally suited for consumer applications. The only way that you could get some useful energy when it comes to power a smartphone would be to make the energy harvesting device so big that it would become very uncomfortable for a person to go running.
There have been a few companies throughout the years who have tried to commercialise vibration energy harvesting for charging a smartphone while running and they have, unfortunately but not surprisingly, failed to launch a product that created any useful power.
Are there any other harvesting technologies that could work?
Luckily enough, yes! Everything does of course depend on the circumstances but we would recommend using solar powered charges that are widely available. The efficiency of the different products available here does of course vary a bit but with a decent performing solar cell you should be able to fully charge a smartphone in about 3 hours. So if you are going camping, hiking or any other activity where you will not have a power outlet close by and chances for sun are good we would recommend getting your hands on such a charger.
For more info on energy harvesting and how the technology can be used, have a look at our Learning Center.