Energy harvesting investigations by undergraduate engineering technology students

Dale Litwhiler, Thomas Gavigan, Brittany Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Energy harvesting is a very popular topic in current literature. However the concept of capturing small quantities of waste energy to power useful electrical devices is not new. The "self-winding" wristwatch, which is powered by the motion of the wearer, was originally available decades ago, but public awareness of energy conservation and sustainability has brought new attention to this type of energy capture and use. Many energy harvesting systems are designed to capture mechanical energy, such as vibration, and convert it to electrical energy. The problem of converting small amounts of mechanical energy into electrical energy is well suited to investigation by undergraduate engineering technology students. The concepts learned in introductory courses are sufficient to allow the students to think of novel sources of mechanical energy and clever methods of capturing it. The apparatus required to make reasonably accurate measurements is quite simple and is easily constructed by the students in an engineering technology laboratory. Students are often familiar with some of the consumer devices available that convert human-generated energy into electrical energy such as hand-cranked and hand-shaken flashlights. Therefore, as a foray into the area of energy harvesting, commercially available devices are purchased and reverse-engineered by the students. The students disassemble and identify the key mechanical, electrical, and energy conversion components of the flashlights. The mechanical energy storage components are carefully measured and weighed. For rotating systems, the mass moment of inertia is calculated from the physical measurements. The students then reassemble the devices and conduct performance tests to determine the energy conversion efficiency of each system. Armed with the information gained from these investigations, students with more academic experience can perform more detailed analysis, performance measurements, and comparisons with systems employing different energy conversion devices. By using human power, the students get a real feel for the magnitude of a Watt and the importance of energy efficiency in energy harvesting applications. The results obtained from the testing and analysis performed by all the students is very useful in further development of custom energy harvesting device research. This paper presents the devices, apparatus, and methods used in the investigations as well as the results and conclusions as determined by the students involved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Event2010 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Louisville, KY, United States
Duration: Jun 20 2010Jun 23 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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