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Energy Scavenging at Louisiana Tech

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Imagine never having to charge your cell phone again.

That day could be coming thanks to researchers at Louisiana Tech.

They are using a process called energy scavenging.

It’s when you harvest energy that’s already out there and would be otherwise wasted.

Wind, sun, and heat are some great examples.

However, energy scavengers don't just get it from the environment.

"It could be a source that is perhaps from a car so exhaust energy, exhaust heat," said Leland Weiss, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Louisiana Tech.

Imagine a device on the exhaust of your car capturing energy to, say, run your radio.

"For every one gallon of gas you put in your car, only about a third of that actually helps a car move and the rest of it goes out the tail pipe as exhaust energy or it goes out the radiator as heat energy and so there's a lot of opportunity to try and capture some of that energy and reuse it and make power with it," said Weiss.

This is the kind of forward thinking that will limit how much energy we use and not just in cars.

"I also would even apply it to things like refrigerators or other systems like that,” said Weiss. “You can start to increase the efficiency of a house."

Or, how about making your computer more efficient?

"There are energy sources in computer chips,” said Weiss. “They get very hot so you can start to draw heat energy off of a computer chip and potentially run things like computer fans and things like that."

Keep in mind, this won't eliminate our dependence on foreign energy.

"The idea behind this research is that it becomes something that improves the system that's already in place but it can't replace the system," said Weiss.

Since it's there, why wouldn't we want to use it?

"They are free in the environment,” said Suvhashis Thaba, Louisiana Tech grad student. “We don't have to pay for them."

It would also be a great piece of technology for other countries where power is a privilege.

"I'm from Nigeria and over there we have a lot of heat but not a lot of electricity,” said Amara Uyanna, Chemical Engineering Major at Louisiana Tech. “So I was interested in [it]. There has to be a way to fix this."

Even NASA is interested.

"I'm actually working with NASA for some terrestrial/potential space options for powering their electronics with the waste heat from their equipment," said Eric Borquist, grad student at Tech.

How about this?

Tech researchers also work on a chip that doesn't just capture one kind of energy, but three.

"In 2010, we discovered a new phenomenon, and we use that technology to harvest multiple energies on a single chip,” said Dr. Long Que, Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering at Louisiana Tech. “Those energies include solar energy, thermal radiation energy, and vibration energy."

The idea is if there's no sunlight, you can get power from heat. If there's no heat, you can get power from movement like the wind.

"We can use this technology to operate portable devices such as cell phones and some biomedical devices such as implanted medical devices in our bodies," said Dr. Que.

Yes, that could mean never charging your cell phone again.

It could also mean no batteries for your pace maker.

It would be fueled by your body's movement and heat.

This technology won't be out tomorrow but it may not be long before we start using it.

"In terms of the practical applications, it may take three to five years to put it on the market," said Dr. Que.

All of this work at Louisiana Tech could mean more than just saving energy --- it could save you money, it could create new jobs, and it would definitely be better for the environment.

"There's a lot of opportunity to actually, I mean it sounds kind of silly, but make the world a little bit of a better place,” said Weiss. “There are a lot of different ways and this is one way to do that."

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