MIT chip harvests energy from light, heat and vibrations

Scientists are developing a chip that could combine three separate energy sources to provide battery free electronics.

MIT researchers have been able to develop computer and wireless communications chips that are able to harness the power of natural light, heat and vibrations. Up until now they have been unable to combine all three onto a single chip.

A new design, MIT says, can perform the tricky task of combining heat, light and vibrations at the same time on one device.

This is useful as each of the three power sources are likely to give only intermittent energy flow, depending on conditions, and opens the doors for much more reliable energy harvesting.

Low power monitoring devices could then be made to be totally self reliant, using energy from anything from sunlight to road vibrations to keep batteries topped up.

The amount of energy produced may not be very high at the moment. Thermal devices can provide only around  0.15 volts, low power photovoltaics just roughly half a watt, and piezoelectrics generating up to five volts.

However, the low power microcontrollers developed by the likes of Texas Instruments could make use of the ability to draw energy from three sources. Devices without batteries could one day prove the deciding factor in the low-power processing wars from big chip designers like Intel and ARM.