A harvest of ‘invisible energy’ to power the internet of things
All around us there is a lot of energy that is dissipated and wasted, remember Gonzalo Murillo, Junior Leader researcher “la Caixa” at the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona or IMB-CNM (CSIC). In a world where the Internet of Things is already almost ubiquitous, sensors monitor vibrations, temperature, humidity, pressure or light and rely on batteries that need to be replenished periodically. For this reason, Murillo came up with use piezoelectric materials, capable of continuously generating electrical energy from small mechanical deformations exerted on them.
«The idea is to recover energy that is in the environment, just like when the movement of the human body is used or the braking of a vehicle, which produces mechanical energy that can be converted into electricity.
They are small amounts of energy to power an electronic system and make it autonomous. And I focused on vibrational energy. Environmental vibrations that exist in the environment”, points out this young scientist from Granada, who in 2017 founded the startup Energiot.
Existing applications are in the electricity sector because there are very large networks. High-voltage electrical networks have millions of kilometers of very difficult access and require costly maintenance. The number of sensors is very high and the cost of changing a battery is very high. Adding Murillo’s minicontrollers to the equation would lower costs, but the positive impact is also ecological. Murillo’s discovery could be used in the same way in water pipes, where the vibrations of the liquid passing through them would generate energy, or it could be used for predictive maintenance, integrating sensors that monitor the mechanical fatigue of materials.
The Another sector of application of this piezoelectric material is the biomedical one. One of the materials that Murillo uses are zinc oxide nanostructures, which can be stimulated by generating a spark of the piezoelectric material that would generate a response from the cell. “If we have a bone prosthesis and we cover it with this material we can get the bone to mature earlier”, says the scientist. And they have also seen results in muscle and skin cells, which would favor its use in wounds and in the cosmetic sector. It is currently closing an investment round of one million euros. And there is more and more interest from large companies for this solution.