Good Vibrations: Swaying Trains Generate Power
Researchers attach an energy logger to a shipping container. One group of scientists wants to see if swaying train cars create enough energy to power small devices.
CREDIT: Fraunhofer IIS
The swaying of train cars as they rattle down a track actually represents a tiny amount of energy, and scientists at an applied research institute in Germany want to see if that's enough to power small devices. A group at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits has built a micro-energy logger that attaches to train cars and calculates the energy people might be able to harvest from them. If there is enough energy there, a refrigerator car carrying vegetables could power its own temperature sensor or GPS tracker, for example, instead of relying on batteries.
"We can use the data collected to design vibration converters, such as the piezoelectric generators, to feed the sensors, radio transmission receivers, tracking systems and other low-power-consuming devices," electrical engineer Peter Spies, who leads the research, said in a statement. "Thanks to energy harvesting, we can replace the batteries and wiring." He and his colleagues will demonstrate their device starting May 22 at a German trade fair called Sensor+Test.
The prototype logger has an acceleration sensor and GPS capability, to measure the train car's acceleration in three different directions and determine the train's speed. Spies' team has already installed the logger in freight cars, trucks and machinery. They're now working on adding a converter that will turn the mechanical energy of swaying into electricity.
Other devices that might draw power from the vibrations around them include heart rate monitors and sensors in washing machines or production plants, according to Fraunhofer. Other small sources of energy that future devices might harvest include temperature and pressure differences or air currents.