The upcoming rollout of 5G technology and the support it will provide for the internet of things (IoT) means we are set to see a proliferation in web-connected devices, all of which will need power. And thanks to funding announced today, the solution could be energy scavenging.

The project in question is being developed at the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) at the University of Surrey, which has today announced over £1m in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and related industry partners.

It involves developing triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy scavenging technology designed to power the types of small electronic components that are becoming ever more ubiquitous with the development of 5G and the IoT.

What is energy scavenging?

Also known as energy harvesting, energy scavenging involves collecting waste energy from movement – either of people, nature or machines.

These devices can scavenge the waste energy from natural human movement, as well as from equipment, such as in the form of machine vibration.

TENG is capable of harvesting this waste energy through two technologies working in tandem: electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction. While the resulting energy gained is relatively small, it is enough to power compact electronics without the need for centralised power sources, making it invaluable to a host of developing technologies.

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In particular, TENG could in the future be used to partner the myriad of sensors used to provide data in smart cities or enable the safe operation of driverless cars. It could also be used to power wearable devices and health sensors, as well as the robots increasingly being used in smart factories.

“TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide ‘free energy’,” explained Professor Ravi Silva, director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimised energy harvesters.”

As part of a plan to ultimately take the technology to commercial use, the ATI is partnering with a host of academic and industry institutions, including Georgia Institute of Technology, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University, Jaguar Land Rover, MAS Holdings and QinetiQ.

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