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Prototype of the hybrid generating device  (Source: Fujitsu Laboratories )
Novel concept combines two devices into one for inexpensive, easy and guaranteed energy harvesting

Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd. has created a hybrid energy harvesting tool that is capable of drawing heat or light to generate electricity. 

This new device is a novel concept because it combines two methods of creating electricity that, up until this point, could only work independently. Photovoltaic cells generate electricity from light and thermoelectric devices generate electricity from temperature differentials. Now, instead of having both as separate tools, they've been combined as one. 

Energy harvesting has become a popular idea for generating electricity without the use of batteries or power cords. The process draws energy from surrounding light, heat, radio waves, vibration, etc. 

Up until now, the problem with energy harvesting devices was that they couldn't draw enough energy from surrounding elements to power larger equipment, such as ICT equipment. Power plants and batteries provide much more power capable of running such equipment. Another problem is that the sun doesn't always shine, the wind doesn't always blow, etc. So having a device that relies on only one surrounding element can be a problem if that particular element is unavailable for an extended period of time. 

But now, Fujitsu Laboratories has merged two devices into one, creating a tool that can use light or heat to create electricity. Light and heat were chosen because they are the most common types of ambient energy available, and can be manufactured from organic materials that are inexpensive. 

To make this device, Fujitsu Laboratories changed the circuits that connect the two types of semiconducting material, which are the P-type and N-type semiconductors. By doing this, the photovoltaic cell and thermoelectric generator can function. 

The device is made from organic material that has a high generating efficiency. It is able to produce power from heat in thermoelectric mode as well as generate power from indoor and outdoor lighting in photovoltaic mode. 

With the device being small and mobile, it is easy for every day use. The organic material also makes the device inexpensive, which means it has potential for widespread use. Fujitsu Laboratories also notes that this technology "can also be used for environmental sensing in remote areas for weather forecasting," since replacing batteries would be difficult in these specific places. 

Fujitsu Laboratories plan to commercialize this type of technology by approximately 2015. 

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Suddenly hybrids look more promising
By CurseTheSky on 12/9/2010 2:04:45 PM , Rating: 2
If these become inexpensive and resilient enough, you could wrap the entire car's exhaust system in them.

RE: Suddenly hybrids look more promising
By bobsmith1492 on 12/9/2010 2:31:59 PM , Rating: 2
It would work in any car, supplementing the electrical system. Reducing the load on the alternator reduces the load on the engine too.

RE: Suddenly hybrids look more promising
By mcnabney on 12/9/2010 6:48:15 PM , Rating: 2

While technically the belt turning the alternator does rob some power, you are not going to notice it in vehicles that muster more than 60hp (which is all of them, even hybrids).

By Kurz on 12/10/2010 8:57:57 AM , Rating: 2
Get an Scan Guage the GPH (Gallons Per Hour) does go up in my Rav4 when I turn on the lights. Talking about .05~

By Alexvrb on 12/12/2010 2:00:12 PM , Rating: 2
Look at modern vehicles with very high output "smart" alternators. As you ramp up the electrical load, they steal more power (all alternators do this, but newer "smart" ones steal less under low-load so it is more noticeable, plus output has been increasing over the years). That energy isn't free. When you're cruising along the highway getting your best mileage figures, that's because you're not actually generating very much horsepower to maintain that speed. So any increase in load is going to result in more fuel burned. Throw on the lights, fancy radio, DVD players, defroster, blower motor, etc., and you'll be burning more gas.

So while you don't "notice" it as a driver, it does have an impact. Does that mean we should be throwing this on regular non-hybrids? Heck no! The gains don't outweigh the cost and complexity you're adding to the vehicle. Not even close. I just wanted to illustrate that energy produced by the alternator is NOT free, and using more electricity DOES come at the consumption of additional gasoline.

You'd be better off with a very simple mild hybrid, to help recapture energy through regenerative braking, and to allow the vehicle to start moving from a dead stop before the stop/start system even has time to start the engine (this will help eliminate the delay of non-hybrid stop/start systems and makes them more reliable since you've got a larger battery to rely on).

If you really want to utilize the exhaust in a non-hybrid, I recommend a turbocharger.

By mindless1 on 12/11/2010 6:19:24 PM , Rating: 2
What a great idea, make cars thousands of dollars more expensive for a trivial amount of electricity produced and put it on the bottom of the car where the exhaust is so it fails very often.

Reducing the load on the alternator isn't going to be enough of a difference to matter in the grand scheme of things. You'd have better results simply replacing the typical (cheap to manufacture) alternator with one having higher efficiency, but of course higher cost too.

RE: Suddenly hybrids look more promising
By MrFord on 12/9/2010 3:12:30 PM , Rating: 2
We're on a tech website... should at least suggested to put that on a laptop heatsink to recharge the battery.

RE: Suddenly hybrids look more promising
By MrFord on 12/9/2010 3:14:44 PM , Rating: 4
... or use an overclocked Athlon 1400 or P4 Extreme Edition as a generator.

By Kurz on 12/10/2010 8:58:44 AM , Rating: 2
Omgs Flux Power from Old Tech!!!

By The Imir of Groofunkistan on 12/9/2010 3:49:34 PM , Rating: 2
there's not much light under there a car...

By The Imir of Groofunkistan on 12/9/2010 3:51:28 PM , Rating: 2
there's not much light under a car...

By Nutzo on 12/9/2010 4:47:47 PM , Rating: 2
And hauling around the extra weight of these collectors would actually take more energy than they produce.

Wonder why you don't see solar panels on the top of electic cars? It's the same problem. The amount of energy collected by the panels with a full day of sunlight would be used up by hauling the extra weight of the panels around for a couple miles.

By mars2k on 12/12/2010 11:10:00 AM , Rating: 2
Great idea on the exhaust wrap. Don't forget the brakes. Also the entire car surface could recharge the batteries while you're at work.
Why not wrap the Hydrogen fuel cell too?
I'm not clear on the ability to harvest energy from heat and light at the same time?
This sort of "co-generation" has limitless possibilities for harvesting energy in manufacturing too.

Wow that's cool...
By Smartless on 12/9/2010 1:50:02 PM , Rating: 2
That's a terrific concept but I wonder what the efficiency would be. I don't much about thermoelectrics nor do I have time to read it but if the technology exists, I can think of tons of uses to recoup energy lost as heat. If it could recoup energy lost from things like car engines, external ports of clothes dryers, and Bill O`Reilly, the world would be saved.

RE: Wow that's cool...
By menace on 12/9/2010 2:17:51 PM , Rating: 2
Up until now, the problem with energy harvesting devices was that they couldn't draw enough energy from surrounding elements

The clause leading this sentence implies this tech is a definitive solution to the problem of down time with solar power. I beg to differ. How many situations is it that there is an adequate source of heat available after the sun goes away? If there is heat available at night the same heat source is typically available 24/7 even while the sun shines so why would you need the solar conversion in that case. I don't see this as a solution to that problem, but perhaps it could make for a moderately efficient and affordable cell to fill the gap between the cheap and expensive solar cells.

RE: Wow that's cool...
By gvaley on 12/10/2010 2:48:47 AM , Rating: 2
but if the technology exists

The tech's been there for decades. For instance, this is how you measure temperature with a semiconductor sensor. In automotive, there even have been concept cars utilizing the exhaust heat to produce electricity for the car's needs, only the cost has been more than steep until now. To give you the idea of how expensive it was, the cost of adding it to a car would be comparable to the car's cost itself.

RE: Wow that's cool...
By FITCamaro on 12/10/2010 12:12:13 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah if you could wrap the exhaust manifolds in a material that creates electricity you could provide power for whatever.

Here's one thing I've always wondered. We have electric water pumps. Why don't we have electric AC compressors? Is it because the efficiency gained from losing the compressor would be made back up by making the alternator have to rob more power to generate the required electricity?

RE: Wow that's cool...
By gvaley on 12/11/2010 4:20:52 AM , Rating: 2
Why don't we have electric AC compressors?

We do have electric AC compressors, Prius being the first example to come to mind.

Is it because the efficiency gained from losing the compressor would be made back up by making the alternator have to rob more power to generate the required electricity?

Basically, yes. But if you look at the big picture you can gain efficiency by going with electric AC, all you need is smart electric system management. For example, the latest alternator designs allow for the alternator to be decoupled from the engine when not in use to save fuel. Put in a larger battery (or a Li-Ion battery like Porsche did) and a power management computer and you are on the path to smarter petrol burning.

RE: Wow that's cool...
By mindless1 on 12/11/2010 6:29:21 PM , Rating: 2
It cannot be concluded that putting the alternator at higher load, to charge a battery (not 100% efficient), then power an electric motor from it for the compressor, is inherently more efficient than simply direct driving (via belt) the compressor from the engine.

Plus, it's more expensive to put a motor in the compressor than a few inches longer belt, and heavier.

Add that weight, weight of a larger battery, power management computer, and whatever else you'd like to conceive and you have no assurance it is higher efficiency (decoupling clutch for an alternator needs no computer it could be a simple voltage sense circuit same as used to determine alternator loading) but it will certainly be heavier and more expensive.

That's not progress. The most effective use of electric motors will be for things that aren't constant duty like steering while an alternator can be sized and cycled at low duty to keep battery at the required voltage level. Cycling it on and off with decoupling would only be needed if it is oversized (weight and expense again) for the job.

The matrix has you...
By quiksilvr on 12/9/2010 1:51:06 PM , Rating: 2
Now put on this metal dress...

RE: The matrix has you...
By Anoxanmore on 12/9/2010 4:23:54 PM , Rating: 2
Only if it is slinky, we all like a bit of slink.

hmm.. there is a lot of OR's in this
By kattanna on 12/9/2010 3:09:16 PM , Rating: 2
i read the article and the actual article and i get a lot of it can use heat OR light.. not heat AND light

and that picture shows 2 different wiring configs, 1 for each "mode"

so im wondering if it can do only 1 or the other, but not both at the same time.

By Fritzr on 12/11/2010 7:28:01 PM , Rating: 2
The last bit where it says mode selectable implies one or the other also.

I was hoping when I read this, that it was actually a thermovoltaic system mounted on a photovoltaic system. The photovoltaic uses the frequencies it is tuned to, the remaining visible light & infrared heat the unit powering the thermovoltaic side.

There have been a few test units using this concept over the years, but as discrete assemblies of visible light photovoltaic and infrared photovoltaic. mounting a thermovoltaic directly on the back of the panel would seem to make sense, I'm wondering what the technical difficulties have been that have kept anyone from building such a combination.

So question
By FITCamaro on 12/10/2010 12:07:39 PM , Rating: 2
It is able to produce power from heat in thermoelectric mode as well as generate power from indoor and outdoor lighting in photovoltaic mode.

So with obviously some initial electricity to activate the light, could this create enough electricity to power a self sustaining light bulb? Start the light with conventional power, the light drives this device which produces electricity to power the light bulb?

RE: So question
By Akrovah on 12/10/2010 4:56:17 PM , Rating: 2
My understanding of physics being only basic, I think this would only work if you had a 100% conversion rate AND you captured all of the light/heat from the bulb, leaving nothing left to actually light the room.

By Amiga500 on 12/9/2010 3:33:53 PM , Rating: 3
Wonder why it took so long really...

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