Energy-harvesting technology is on upward spiral and will fuel an increasing number of consumer and industrial products in the future without the need for external power sources, while serving as one of many next-generation green power sources. This technology, which converts ambient energy to electrical energy, is a game-changing alternative to battery power for mobile devices. Obviously, it is more convenient for a tablet or smartphone, and especially wearable devices, to be self-powered for flexibility and increased availability of the device. In addition, global carbon emissions could be reduced if mobile devices ran via energy-harvesting systems, as more consumers switch from PCs to tablet computers and high-end smartphones, while batteries for current devices require safe environmental disposal procedures.
Navigant Research predicts that energy-harvesting revenue will reach approximately $268 million by the end of this year and grow to almost $375 million by 2020 based on its recent report focused on nine consumer and industrial market segments and the four most successful transduction methods for converting ambient energy. Another market research firm, IDTechEx, found that the total market for energy-harvesting devices will reach $2.6 billion in 2024, which is a more bullish assessment of future applications than the Navigant study.
Beyond just mobile devices, applications include satellites, laptops, lighting, health monitoring, water quality control, smart city management and nodes in sensor networks making them self-sufficient. However, the majority of applications are geared towards consumer applications, where inroads have already been made. Energy-harvesting can be generated by a wide array of physical principles and methods including: photovoltaics (mini solar cells), thermovoltaics (thermal gradients), and piezoelectrics (mechanical to electrical) and electrodynamics (magnetic to electrical). The technology is being given serious consideration as a core or supplementary power source in tablets and smartphones due to their limited battery lives and the increasing demand for new functionality and capabilities for these devices amid the lack of advances in battery technology and size constraints for mobile devices.
One of the top materials for piezoelectric energy-harvesting is lead-zirconium-titanate (PZT), which is an intermetallic inorganic compound and a ceramic perovskite with the chemical formula: Pb[ZrxTi1-x]O3 where 0≤x≤1. Being piezoelectric, it develops a voltage across two of its faces when compressed, which is useful for MEMS sensor applications or physically changes shape when an external electric field is applied making it applicable to actuator applications. For many years, PZT-based materials have been key components in ultrasound transducers, ceramic capacitors, and STM/AFM actuators (tubes) for scientific research. Thus, it is a proven material with a strong track record, which helps elevate its potential for energy-harvesting in next-generation mobile devices as well.
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