Researchers at Louisiana Tech University have developed a nanostructured device that uses the effects of light and thermal energy on a carbon nanotube film to generate enough power to operate some low power microsensors and integrated circuits. From the Louisiana Tech news room, Dave Guerin writes in “Louisiana Tech researchers earn national attention for energy harvesting device

Dr. Long Que, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Louisiana Tech University, has reported success in designing and fabricating a device that allows microscale electronic devices to harvest their own wasted energy.

… this technology uses a cantilever made out of piezoelectric material — material capable of converting distortions to itself into electrical energy — and is coated with a carbon nanotube film on one side. When the film absorbs light and/or thermal energy, it causes the cantilever to bend back and forth repeatedly, which causes the piezoelectric material to generate power as long as the light and/or heat source is active. …

“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,” said Que. “This characteristic might enable us to make perpetual micro/nano devices and micro/nanosystems, and could significantly impact the wireless sensory network.”

…Que believes that, in the future, the device could be used to power a number of different nano and microsystems such as implanted biomedical devices or remotely located sensors and communication nodes.

Enabling microsensors and microcomputers to harvest power from their environments should advance the advent of global networks of sensing and surveillance devices. Those interested in the looming conflict between those using sensors to collect data and those whose data is being collected should take a look at Foresight Institute’s “Open Source Sensing Initiative“.

Journal Reference (courtesy of ScienceDaily):
Venu Kotipalli, Zhongcheng Gong, Pushparaj Pathak, Tianhua Zhang, Yuan He, Shashi Yadav, Long Que. Light and thermal energy cell based on carbon nanotube films. Applied Physics Letters, 2010; 97 (12): 124102; 10.1063/1.3491843