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Wasted Energy May Someday Power Pacemakers and Other Implants

An energy cell can harvest its own operational energy to power microsensors.

Research and development of an innovative technology by scientists at Louisiana Tech (Ruston) doesn't appear to have been a waste of energy. The research team has designed and fabricated an energy cell that enables microscale electronic devices to harvest their own wasted energy for efficient powering of such medical products as electronic implants.

Power generation by way of harvesting  natural physical vibrations and thermal energy are areas that have already experienced breakthroughs this year. The Louisiana Tech team's technology represents yet another advancement in this promising area. Its technology, however, employs a piezoelectric, lead-zirconate-titanate cantilever coated on one side with a carbon nanotube film. Absorption of light or thermal energy by the film induces the cantilever to repeatedly bend while exposed to the stimulus. This cyclical bending motion, in turn, generates power.

"The greatest significance of this work is that it offers us a new option to continuously harvest both solar and thermal energy on a single chip, given the self-reciprocating characteristics of the device upon exposure to light and/or thermal radiation," says Long Que, assistant professor of electrical engineering. "This characteristic might enable us to make perpetual micro/nanodevices and micro/nanosystems, and could significantly impact the wireless sensory network."

In early experiments, the researchers demonstrated the nanotube-coated cantilever's ability to adequately power several low-power microsensors and integrated circuits; the device generated an electric potential of 10 V. The self-reciprocating energy cell also boasts the benefit of being able to harvest various energy sources, according to the researchers.

Details of the research were published recently in the journal, Applied Physics Letters.

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