Battery-free smart devices to harvest ambient energy for IoT

The Internet of Things allows our smart gadgets in the home and wearable technologies like our smart watches to communicate and operate together.

Tiny internet-connected electronic devices are becoming ubiquitous. The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) allows our smart gadgets in the home and wearable technologies like our smart watches to communicate and operate together. IoT devices are increasingly used across all sorts of industries to drive interconnectivity and smart automation as part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

The fourth industrial revolution builds on already widespread digital technology such as connected devices, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. It is expected to be a significant factor in revolutionising society, the economy and culture.

These small, autonomous, interconnected and often wireless devices are already playing a key role in our everyday lives by helping to make us more resource and energy-efficient, organised, safe, secure and healthy.

There is a key challenge, however – how to power these tiny devices. The obvious answer is “batteries”. But it is not quite that simple.

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New wireless charging works from nearly 100 feet away 

In the future, a room could start charging your phone as soon as you enter it.

By Kristin Houser

A new wireless charging system uses harmless infrared light to power devices from nearly 100 feet away — putting us one step closer to truly wireless technology.

The challenge: Wireless charging isn’t new — you might already own a coaster-shaped wireless charging pad for your smartphone or watch.

However, those wireless chargers typically require your device to remain very close to the charger and stationary — pick it up, and the charging stops. Plus, the chargers still require power cords themselves, meaning they don’t exactly help declutter your living or working spaces.

The system is already powerful enough for sensors and could charge mobile devices with further development.

Researchers have started developing technologies that charge devices over the air — these could be used to turn entire rooms into wireless chargers, meaning your device would start powering up as soon as you entered.

However, many wireless charging prototypes require that the entire room be modified, which isn’t terribly practical.

Others only work over distances of a few meters — that prevents their use in larger spaces, such as factories, where wireless power could eliminate cords that pose a safety hazard. 

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Korean nuclear fusion reactor achieves 100 million°C for 30 seconds

The Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research experimentKorea Institute of Fusion Energy

By Matthew Sparkes

A sustained, stable experiment is the latest demonstration that nuclear fusion is moving from being a physics problem to an engineering one.

A nuclear fusion reaction has lasted for 30 seconds at temperatures in excess of 100 million°C. While the duration and temperature alone aren’t records, the simultaneous achievement of heat and stability brings us a step closer to a viable fusion reactor – as long as the technique used can be scaled up.

Most scientists agree that viable fusion power is still decades away, but the incremental advances in understanding and results keep coming. An experiment conducted in 2021 created a reaction energetic enough to be self-sustaining, conceptual designs for a commercial reactor are being drawn up, while work continues on the large ITER experimental fusion reactor in France.

Now Yong-Su Na at Seoul National University in South Korea and his colleagues have succeeded in running a reaction at the extremely high temperatures that will be required for a viable reactor, and keeping the hot, ionised state of matter that is created within the device stable for 30 seconds.

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A new fusion power station will mimic the Sun to provide limitless energy

‘The next technological step after the global ITER fusion experiment’.

By Chris Young

A European consortium, EuroFusion, has taken a crucial step on the long road to commercially viable nuclear fusi

The consortium just announced the start of a five-year “conceptual design” phase for its DEMOnstration power plant (DEMO), a press statement reveals.

This means nuclear fusion scientists are starting design work on a European demonstration power station that they hope will finally enable net nuclear fusion energy — the much-hyped method to end our reliance on fossil fuels by providing practically limitless energy.

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Ex-SpaceX Engineer Builds Martian Nuclear Reactor To Tackle Earth’s Power Crisis

by Razvan Calin

Elon Musk has already shaped our world in several different ways, and the debate of whether they’re all beneficial to humanity is ongoing. But apart from putting electric vehicles on top of the automotive world’s agenda and making us dream about outer space travel, there is one somewhat unintentional side effect of his frantic quest for broader horizons.

A former employee of SpaceX has set a very ambitious goal of building a working solution for humanity’s ever-growing need for electricity. No bigger than a regular container, his invention is a nuclear fission reactor generator. Portable, affordable, and economically feasible, the power plant can be deployed everywhere. In an interview for Interesting Engineering, the head of Radiant Nuclear (the company that builds the reactor) shed light on his work.

Doug Bernauer, CEO of Radiant Nuclear and ex-SpaceX engineer, got the idea from a project he worked on while at SpaceX: supplying power to a human colony on Mars. The challenge was that it had to sustain the facilities on the ground and refuel spaceships that could travel back and forth between Earth and the Red Planet. Since the Sun was not a good enough solution, nuclear energy came up. But, until humankind reaches that stage, we can successfully use that invention on our Blue Planet. With $10 in million funding from Union Square Ventures, Radiant Nuclear is on its way to building the world’s first portable, zero-emissions power source. The prototype could begin the testing stage in five years. 

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Solar-Powered Tower Makes Carbon-Neutral Jet Fuel Using Just CO2, Water, And Sunlight

By Monit Khanna

The reactor eventually receives around 2,500 suns’ worth of energy or around 50 kilowatts of solar thermal powerThe heat is channelled to push a two-step thermochemical redox cycle. Water and pure CO2 are injected into a ceria-based redox reaction that turns them simultaneously into hydrogen and carbon monoxide.Since it’s all being done in a single chamber, scientists can tweak the rate of water and carbon dioxide to manage the exact composition of the syngas in real-time

A novel solar thermal power plant in Spain is able to produce carbon-neutral and sustainable diesel and jet fuel by absorbing carbon dioxide, water and sunlight.

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This ‘sand’ battery stores renewable energy as heat

The heat can then be used to warm water in the winter when energy is more expensive.

By M. Moon

A company in Finland has created an an unusual storage solution for renewable energy: One that uses sand instead of lithium ion or other battery technologies. Polar Night Energy and Vatajankoski, an energy utility in Western Finland, have built a storage system that can store electricity as heat in the sand. While there are other organizations researching the use of sand for energy storage, including the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Finns say theirs is the first fully working commercial installation of a battery made from sand.

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SCIENTISTS CLAIM TO HAVE DESIGNED A FULLY DECENTRALIZED STABLECOIN PEGGED TO ELECTRICITY


By DEREK ANDERSEN

The E-Stablecoin would require several scientific advancements that are already in the works, and would allegedly make it possible to transmit electricity almost for free.

Researchers at the federally funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have combined statistical mechanics and information theory to design a class of stablecoin dubbed the Electricity Stablecoin (E-Stablecoin) that would transmit energy as a form of information. Livermore’s Maxwell Murialdo and Jonathan L. Belof say their innovation would make it possible to transmit electricity without physical wires or a grid and create a fully collateralized stablecoin pegged to a physical asset – electricity – that is dependent on its utility for is value. 

According to the scientists, the E-Stablecoin would be minted through the input of one kilowatt-hour of electricity, plus a fee. The stablecoin could then be used for transactions the same way as any stablecoin, or the energy could be extracted by burning it, also for a fee. The entire process would be controlled by smart contracts with a decentralized data storage cloud. No trusted centralized authority would be needed to maintain or disburse the asset.

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PRACTICAL POWER BEAMING GETS REAL

A power-beaming system developed by PowerLight Technologies conveyed hundreds of watts of power during a 2019 demonstration at the Port of Seattle. 

By PAUL JAFFE

A century later, Nikola Tesla’s dream comes true,

WIRES HAVE A LOT going for them when it comes to moving electric power around, but they have their drawbacks too. Who, after all, hasn’t tired of having to plug in and unplug their phone and other rechargeable gizmos? I

t’s a nuisance.Wires also challenge electric utilities: These companies must take pains to boost the voltage they apply to their transmission cables to very high values to avoid dissipating most of the power along the way.

And when it comes to powering public transportation, including electric trains and trams, wires need to be used in tandem with rolling or sliding contacts, which are troublesome to maintain, can spark, and in some settings will generate problematic contaminants.Many people are hungry for solutions to these issues—witness the widespread adoption over the past decade of wireless charging, mostly for portable consumer electronics but also for vehicles.

While a wireless charger saves you from having to connect and disconnect cables repeatedly, the distance over which energy can be delivered this way is quite short. Indeed, it’s hard to recharge or power a device when the air gap is just a few centimeters, much less a few meters. Is there really no practical way to send power over greater distances without wires?

To some, the whole notion of wireless power transmission evokes images of Nikola Tesla with high-voltage coils spewing miniature bolts of lightning. This wouldn’t be such a silly connection to make. Tesla had indeed pursued the idea of somehow using the ground and atmosphere as a conduit for long-distance power transmission, a plan that went nowhere.

But his dream of sending electric power over great distances without wires has persisted.To underscore how safe the system was, the host of the BBC science program “Bang Goes the Theory” stuck his face fully into a power beam.Guglielmo Marconi, who was Tesla’s contemporary, figured out how to use “Hertzian waves,” or electromagnetic waves, as we call them today, to send signals over long distances.

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A new heat engine with no moving parts is as efficient as a steam turbine

A thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell (size 1 cm x 1 cm) mounted on a heat sink designed to measure the TPV cell efficiency. To measure the efficiency, the cell is exposed to an emitter and simultaneous measurements of electric power and heat flow through the device are taken.

by Jennifer Chu,  Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Engineers at MIT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have designed a heat engine with no moving parts. Their new demonstrations show that it converts heat to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency—a performance better than that of traditional steam turbines.

The heat engine is a thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell, similar to a solar panel’s photovoltaic cells, that passively captures high-energy photons from a white-hot heat source and converts them into electricity. The team’s design can generate electricity from a heat source of between 1,900 to 2,400 degrees Celsius, or up to about 4,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The researchers plan to incorporate the TPV cell into a grid-scale thermal battery. The system would absorb excess energy from renewable sources such as the sun and store that energy in heavily insulated banks of hot graphite. When the energy is needed, such as on overcast days, TPV cells would convert the heat into electricity, and dispatch the energy to a power grid.

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America’s Power Grid Is Increasingly Unreliable

Behind a rising number of outages are new stresses on the system caused by aging power lines, a changing climate and a power-plant fleet rapidly going green

By Katherine Blunt 

The U.S. electrical system is becoming less dependable. The problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Large, sustained outages have occurred with increasing frequency in the U.S. over the past two decades, according to a Wall Street Journal review of federal data. In 2000, there were fewer than two dozen major disruptions, the data shows. In 2020, the number surpassed 180. 

Utility customers on average experienced just over eight hours of power interruptions in 2020, more than double the amount in 2013, when the government began tracking outage lengths. The data doesn’t include 2021, but those numbers are certain to follow the trend after a freak freeze in Texas, a major hurricane in New Orleans, wildfires in California and a heat wave in the Pacific Northwest left millions in the dark for days.

The U.S. power system is faltering just as millions of Americans are becoming more dependent on it—not just to light their homes, but increasingly to work remotely, charge their phones and cars, and cook their food—as more modern conveniences become electrified.

At the same time, the grid is undergoing the largest transformation in its history. In many parts of the U.S., utilities are no longer the dominant producers of electricity following the creation of a patchwork of regional wholesale markets in which suppliers compete to build power plants and sell their output at the lowest price. Within the past decade, natural gas-fired plants began displacing pricier coal-fired and nuclear generators as fracking unlocked cheap gas supplies. Since then, wind and solar technologies have become increasingly cost-competitive and now rival coal, nuclear and, in some places, gas-fired plants. 

Regulators in many parts of the country are attempting to further speed the build-out of renewable energy in response to concerns about climate change. A number of states have enacted mandates to eliminate carbon emissions from the grid in the coming decades, and the Biden administration has set a goal to do so by 2035.

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Fusion tech is set to unlock near-limitless ultra-deep geothermal energy

Quaise says it has a plan, and the technology, to drill deeper than ever before and unlock the vast geothermal power of the Earth to re-power fossil-fired electricity plants with green energy

By Loz Blain

MIT spin-off Quaise says it’s going to use hijacked fusion technology to drill the deepest holes in history, unlocking clean, virtually limitless, supercritical geothermal energy that can re-power fossil-fueled power plants all over the world.

The heat beneath our feet.

Everyone knows the Earth’s core is hot, but maybe the scale of it still has the power to surprise. Temperatures in the iron center of the core are estimated to be around 5,200 °C (9,392 °F), generated by heat from radioactive elements decaying combining with heat that still remains from the very formation of the planet – an event of cataclysmic violence when a swirling cloud of gas and dust was crushed into a ball by its own gravity.

Where there’s access to heat, there’s harvestable geothermal energy. And there’s so much heat below the Earth’s surface, according to Paul Woskov, a senior fusion research engineer at MIT, that tapping just 0.1 percent of it could supply the entire world’s energy needs for more than 20 million years. 

The problem is access. Where subterranean heat sources naturally occur close to the surface, easily accessible and close enough to a relevant power grid for economically viable transmission, geothermal becomes a rare example of totally reliable, round-the-clock green power generation. The Sun stops shining, the wind stops blowing, but the rock’s always hot. Of course, these conditions are fairly rare, and as a result, geothermal currently supplies only around 0.3 percent of global energy consumption.

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