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Researchers develop tiny, autonomous piezoelectric energy harvester

Donald Melanson, @donmelanson
January 2, 2010
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Folks have long been using piezoelectric devices to harvest energy in everything from dance floors to parking lots, but a group of European researchers have now shown off some novel uses for the technology at the recent International Electron Devices Meeting that could see even more of the self-sufficient devices put to use. Their big breakthrough is that they've managed to shrink a piezoelectric device down to "micromachine" size, which was apparently possible in part as a result of using aluminum nitride instead of lead zirconate titanate as the piezoelectric material, thereby making the devices easier to manufacture. Their first such device is a wireless temperature sensor, which is not only extremely tiny, but is able to function autonomously by harvesting energy from vibrations and transmit temperature information to a base station at 15 second intervals. Of course, the researchers say that is just the beginning, and they see similar devices eventually being used in everything from tire-pressure monitoring systems to predictive maintenance of any moving or rotating machine parts.

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