Fujitsu just unveiled an “energy harvesting” device that can turn both heat and light into electrical power. Along with the company’s self-powered medical devices, this hints at a future where power can be gleaned from everywhere.
Separate light- and heat-based systems for creating electrical energy–such as solar power and geothermal–have long been known. Fujitsu’s trick is to combine the two ways of generating power into one device, leading to more efficient ways to gather energy from the environment, or what Fujitsu’s calling “energy harvesting.”
Fujitsu is cagey about the actual technology used. We do know it involves modifying the two types of semiconductor that go into transistors–P and N type–and a new organic material that has “high generating efficiency” that’s “suitable for a generator in both photovoltaic and thermoelectric modes.”
The company has big hopes for the device, noting it can “produce power from even indoor lighting in photovoltaic mode” and since its “process cost” is inexpensive “production costs can be greatly reduced.” This is a bold promise, hinting that an invention can “double” the ability to capture energy and also come at a low price.
But the payoffs of the invention are massive: Fujitsu suggests the device could be used in “sensors that monitor conditions such as body temperature, blood pressure and heartbeats” without needing “batteries and electrical wiring.” This surpasses the long life promised by the virus-boosted lithium batteries we mentioned yesterday.
The Fujtisu sensors are to be slapped onto the body, gathering their power from the room’s lighting or the body heat itself, and then wirelessly reporting in. This could be especially handy in remote environments where it “would be problematic to replace batteries or run electrical lines,” the company says.
If the device can be made small enough and still remain efficient, it could even be built into the body of cell phones, so that it could boost the battery with a trickle charge from the heat of your pocket or ambient light. There are a million other potential benefits, each of which could have small–but cumulative–environmental benefits.
We won’t have long to wait to see how the thing works out, since Fujitsu has promised to keep developing the technology to boost the efficiency, with a commercialization target date of 2015.
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