Engineering 101

One Step Closer to Powering Devices With a Desk Lamp


Currently, batteries are responsible for powering most of our devices, and even some of our cars. But what if we could power our electronics with light from a lamp?

Researchers have reported a big step toward running electronic devices in homes and offices on the light coming from lamps scattered around the room. The team developed special light harvesters, like those used for solar power, optimized to produce energy from ambient indoor lighting to make it happen.

Electronic gadgets are becoming indispensable. Smart thermostats learn when to turn up the heat, sensors set off alarms when windows are opened, and cell phones keep people connected. The Internet of Things is wirelessly connecting us to everything, communicating with our devices and performing the functions of everyday life. Most of these gadgets run on batteries, but they need to be replaced and can be bulky. Solar power is a possible alternative, but the sun doesn’t always shine when devices need to work. Artificial room lighting, however, is all around — in homes, schools, offices, stores — and can be controlled on demand.

To put room lighting to work, researchers Ryota Arai, Takuma Yasuda and their colleagues turned to organic photovoltaics (OPVs), which are light, flexible and transparent.

To determine the best configuration for OPVs, the researchers tested small-molecule organic semiconductors that appeared to have promising characteristics for harvesting ambient light. OPVs based on the small molecule called BDT-2T-ID outperformed other similar devices, even one based on silicon solar technology. A set of six of these devices connected in series could produce about 4 volts under dim illumination to power microsensors. Much needs to be done to scale up the technology, but the team says it could someday be a viable way to power wireless devices throughout a room.

Story via American Chemical Society.

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