Energy harvesting materials draw interest in industry

16 February 2010

Frost & Sullivan research reports that new technical advances and rising energy prices are driving new research into energy scavenging solutions.

Although energy harvesting materials were relatively unknown in the past, their unique properties have driven them into the spotlight recently. Technical advancements in the field have led to large-scale improvements, giving rise to high-efficiency energy scavenging solutions. At the same time, escalating energy prices have necessitated the development of cost-effective energy harvesting materials to decrease dependence on energy sources.

Materials with the ability to support self-powered devices were among the first energy harvesting technologies developed, pushing forward the growth of the piezoelectric (PE) and electromagnetic (EM) energy harvesting materials market. Other materials now available capture light energy from sunlight at almost all wavelengths, thereby increasing energy density.

Several manufacturers from across the globe have deployed energy harvesting products for commercial use; however, large-scale production of these devices has not been attained. Though research has identified various energy sources for harvesting energy, only a few techniques have proven useful for high-volume production.

A new analysis from Frost & Sullivan "Energy Harvesting Materials -- The Road Ahead," asserts that continuous technical developments will result in fabrication of new and self sustainable solutions in various market sectors.

"The design of a successful energy harvesting module depends not only on the material's efficiency but also on the module architecture, which could be the critical factor defining effectiveness," notes Frost & Sullivan analyst Krzysztof Grzybowski. "Developers must place equal emphasis on material development and smart utilisation."

Incentives from governments and non-profit organisations have encouraged universities and industry participants to develop newer alternative materials for energy harvesting.

Although the outlook for energy harvesting materials looks upbeat, there are some challenges that have overshadowed the landscape. High material prices have remained a spoke in the wheel for the industry and limited the use of several materials.

Restrictions placed on the use of certain materials intended for the development of energy harvesting devices due to environmental concerns has also deterred the use of a good number of potential materials. Within the piezoelectric (PE) materials, the most popular are the lead composites such as lead zirconate titanate (PZT).The use of lead in these energy harvesting materials has raised apprehensions.

Apart from this, the increasing consumption of cadmium telluride for solar cell applications has diminished telluride resources, rendering it an unfeasible alternative. This fact has also served to rein in the growth of thermal energy-based harvesting, considering that bismuth telluride is the predominantly used material for such applications.

"Recent trends in energy harvesting materials point to an exponential increase in the commercialisation interest in four harvesting techniques -- PE, thermo-electric, EM, and photovoltaic (PV)," says Grzybowski. "These techniques pertain to different layers of applications such as electronics, automotive, medical, and aerospace, where each of these diverse domains are assumed to be equally critical in defining today's and tomorrow's energy harvesting."

Edited by David Greenfield, editorial director, Control Engineering Sustainable Engineering News Desk

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