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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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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.

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