Researchers harvest energy from radio waves t

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image: An international team of researchers, led by Huanyu "larry" Cheng, Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Professor at the Penn State Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, has developed an extendable antenna and rectenna system that harvests energy from radio waves in the ambient environment to power portable devices.
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Credit: Larry Cheng, Penn State

From microwave ovens to Wi-Fi connections, the radio waves that permeate the environment are not only signals of consumed energy but are also sources of energy themselves. An international team of researchers, led by Huanyu “Larry” Cheng, Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Professor at the Penn State Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, has developed a way to harvest energy from radio waves to power portable devices.

The researchers recently published their method inPhysics of materials today.

According to Cheng, current power sources for wearable health monitoring devices have their place in powering sensing devices, but each has its setbacks. Solar energy, for example, can only harvest energy when exposed to sunlight. A self-powered triboelectric device can only harvest energy when the body is in motion.

“We don’t want to replace any of these current energy sources,” Cheng said. “We try to provide additional and constant energy.”

Researchers have developed an expandable broadband dipole antenna system capable of wirelessly transmitting data collected from health monitoring sensors. The system consists of two stretchable metallic antennas embedded on a conductive graphene material with a metallic coating. The system’s broadband design allows it to retain its frequency functions even when stretched, bent and twisted. This system is then connected to an expandable rectifier circuit, creating a rectified antenna, or “rectenna”, capable of converting energy from electromagnetic waves into electricity. This electricity can be used to power wireless devices or to charge energy storage devices, such as batteries and supercapacitors.

This rectenna can convert radio or electromagnetic waves from the ambient environment into energy to power the device’s sensing modules, which track temperature, hydration, and pulsed oxygen level. Compared to other sources, less power is produced, but the system can generate power continuously – a significant advantage, according to Cheng.

“We’re using the energy that’s already around us – radio waves are everywhere, all the time,” Cheng said. “If we don’t use this energy found in the surrounding environment, it is simply wasted. We can harvest this energy and rectify it into energy.”

Cheng said this technology is a cornerstone for him and his team. The combination with their new wireless transmittable data device will provide an essential component that will work with the team’s existing sensor modules.

“Our next steps will be to explore miniaturized versions of these circuits and work on developing the expandability of the rectifier,” Cheng said. “This is a platform where we can easily combine and apply this technology with other modules we have created in the past. It is easily extended or adapted to other applications, and we plan to ‘explore these opportunities.’

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This article is co-authored by Jia Zhu, who earned a PhD in Engineering Science and Mechanics from Penn State in 2020; Zhihui Hu, former visiting professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State and current associate professor at Wuhan University of Technology in China; Chaoyun Song, assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland; Ning Yi, who earned a Ph.D. in Engineering Science and Mechanics from Penn State in 2020; Zhaozheng Yu, who earned a master’s degree in engineering science and mechanics from Penn State in 2019; Zhendong Liu, former visiting graduate student in engineering sciences and mechanics at Penn State; Shangbin Liu, a graduate student in engineering sciences and mechanics at Penn State; Mengjun Wang, associate professor at the School of Electronics and Information Engineering at Hebei University of Technology in China; Michael Gregory Dexheimer, who earned a master’s degree in engineering science and mechanics from Penn State in 2020; and Jian Yang, professor of biomedical engineering at Penn State.

Support for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health; and Penn State.


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