Energy-harvesting materials needed to power future IoT networks, experts say

Global experts have designed a roadmap for work to develop materials that could convert waste energy into clean power more effectively.

A group of over 100 scientists, led by Professor Vincenzo Pecunia of Simon Fraser University in Canada, have worked together to analyse various types of energy-harvesting techniques and recommend the best strategy to convert waste energy into clean power. 

The resulting paper outlines future research avenues that could allow society to fully harness the potential of energy-harvesting materials.

“With the rising global energy demand and the challenges posed by climate change, it is more urgent than ever to generate green energy to preserve our planet and sustain human development,” Pecunia said. 

“Energy-harvesting materials present a promising opportunity to generate clean electricity, ultimately enhancing the energy efficiency of our daily lives and supporting our efforts to combat climate change. These materials have the ability to convert ambient energy from various sources including light, heat, radio-frequency waves (like those from Wi-Fi and mobile signals), and mechanical vibrations.”

As smart systems become more and more ubiquitous in society, more and more energy is needed to power them. 

For this reason, the researchers focused on the potential of ambient energy harvesters, which could power the billions of sensor nodes that will leverage Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, including smart homes, smart cities, smart manufacturing and smart healthcare achievable. 

These harvesters will provide an eco-friendly alternative to batteries, which face issues of materials scarcity, toxicity, and waste. However, in order to collect energy from ambient light, vibrations and radio-frequency waves, new materials will need to be developed. 

“It’s essential to develop energy-harvesting materials that can efficiently capture this energy and convert it to electricity,” Pecunia explained. “Another important priority is to develop energy harvesters that can be applied on all types of surfaces and objects, which requires energy-harvesting materials that are mechanically flexible.

“The roadmap aims to catalyse research efforts in energy harvesting research across multiple disciplines to ultimately deliver clean energy anywhere, anytime.”

The roadmap marks the first time that such a large and diverse international network of energy harvesting experts has worked together to chart a course for the advancement of these technologies towards seamless integration into everyday objects and environments. 

The Roadmap on Energy Harvesting Materials has been published in the Journal of Physics: Materials.

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