Can self-charging batteries keep us connected for ever? A young scientist explains

battery 2019

(John Cameron, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam, Academic Fellow, School of Electrical and Information Engineering, University of Sydney

What is the big problem you’re trying to solve?

With the rise of 5G and Internet of things (IoT) technologies, we will soon be surrounded by tiny sensors and smart devices constantly monitoring our environment and potentially changing it to improve our quality of life.

The whole process of collecting data, communicating with the cloud services, storing and analyzing it at servers is energy-hungry. We will soon have more than 50 billion smart devices, most of them installed in hard-to-reach areas, and regular battery replacement and maintenance are infeasible.

The trend so far has been to improve battery efficiency and have smaller yet more efficient batteries to increase lifetime of the devices. Despite all the improvements, for many applications batteries remain a challenge. In fact, battery-enabled smart devices have limited lifetime or longer lifetime with limited performance. There is a trade-off between the device life expectancy and the amount of energy it is using. The higher the energy it uses, the higher the performance but the shorter the lifetime. Even if we could replace batteries, what would we do with all the discarded ones?

What is the big idea you’re trying to use to solve it?

In many IoT applications, devices need to be powered in a self-sufficient and sustainable fashion. A viable solution is to scavenge and harvest energy from the environment and then provide enough energy to the devices to perform their operations. This will significantly increase the device’s lifetime and eliminate the need for a battery as an energy source.

An energy harvesting-enabled smart device has potentially unlimited lifetime. A device can be used for long time without maintenance or battery replacement. We have mostly been using renewable energies on a large scale: why not using them on a micro level?

We are using piezoelectric material (which generate an electric charge in response to applied mechanical stress) to convert tiny movements to electricity and store it in batteries and super-capacitors. Using a hybrid of energy harvesting techniques such as solar, mechanical, thermal, etc., could significantly increase the lifetime of IoT devices and reduce their carbon footprint.

How would you explain that to a five-year-old?

Our phones and toys all work with batteries which store energy to enable them to work. But batteries have a limited lifetime, which means we need to replace or recharge them. Imagine that we have 100 or 1,000 devices which all operate with batteries. It is almost impossible to replace or recharge all these batteries. A way to solve this problem is to use the energy available around us. We can convert almost any type of energy into electricity and store it in a battery – that would let the device work for a long time without needing to replace its batteries.

What has been the most challenging part of the journey?

Harvesting energy from the environment is unreliable. The amount of energy generated in unstable too. This makes the design very complex as the device cannot be directly powered by the energy generated from energy harvesting techniques. An energy storage unit or a super-capacitor with a power management unit should be used to store the collected energy and use it appropriately. Batteries require a certain amount of energy to be able to be recharged. There is a problem with the size and storage capabilities of the batteries which make them incompatible with most energy harvesting techniques. Price is another factor.

What do most people not know about batteries?

There are about 4.7 million developers in the world who can create IoT devices, and the number is increasing at a rate of around 3% per year. Recent studies showed that more than 3 billion batteries are discarded in the US every year, and the penetration of IoT technologies in every sector will exacerbate this problem.


the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Can the EU afford a trade war with China?

The future of energy is being shaped in Asia

Annual UN women activists’ summit opens with focus on services, infrastructure

Prolonged economic crisis and drought demands urgent response for Zimbabwe’s ‘hardest hit’: UN relief chief

International Court of Justice orders Pakistan to review death penalty for Indian accused of spying

Trade defence report: restoring the level playing field for European producers

7 of the world’s 10 most polluted cities are in India

Why are the Balkans’ political leaders meeting in Geneva this week?

Our health systems are under pressure. Here are 9 ways to remedy that

Sudan: ‘Exercise utmost restraint’ urges Guterres as thousands march in Khartoum, sparking deadly clashes

Innovation and entrepreneurship can cut waste and deliver the circular economy

Teen activist Greta Thunberg arrives in New York by boat, putting ‘climate crisis’ in spotlight

UN agency assists Central American caravan migrants, voices concern for receiving countries

Evidence shows ‘brutal’ killing of Saudi journalist ‘planned and perpetrated’ by State officials: UN independent expert

Deliver ‘significant results now’, UN General Assembly President tells COP25 climate conference

5 creative alternatives to plastic packaging

FROM THE FIELD: Sourcing clean water in Ghana

Health Committee MEPs back plans to boost joint assessment of medicines

Refugees now make up 1% of the world’s population

EYE to kick off on Friday: 8000+ young people discussing the future of Europe 1 – 2 June

The 28 EU leaders care more about fiscal orthodoxy than effectively fighting youth unemployment

The community and a decent working conditions for the young health workforce

Nairobi summit: Women’s empowerment a ‘game changer’ for sustainable development

A new generation of women leaders is making waves in the Arab world

How telehealth can get healthcare to more people

Regional policies slowed down by EU bureaucracy

Gender equality within junior enterprises: the effect of President’s gender

Towards a seamless internal EU market for industrial goods

More women and girls needed in the sciences to solve world’s biggest challenges

How microfinance develops decent work

ECB policy is working, but new challenges need new responses

Infrastructural and system barriers to Universal Health Coverage: get in my patient’s shoes

UN chief appeals to G7 leaders for ‘strong commitment’ and political will to tackle climate emergency

“Joining forces to #BeatPollution”, a Sting Exclusive by the Head of UNEP in Brussels

Merkel refuses to consider the North-South schism of Eurozone

Idlib deal could save three million ‘from catastrophe’ says UN chief, as militants are urged to lay down arms

Abu Dhabi is investing $250 million in tech start-ups

We need a reskilling revolution. Here’s how to make it happen

Border management: EU signs agreement with Montenegro on European Border and Coast Guard cooperation

Smokers who quit one month before surgery reap benefits: UN health agency

8000 young people in the EP in Strasbourg: “a breath of fresh air for EU democracy”

Sacrifice of fallen ‘blue helmet’ to be honoured with UN’s highest peacekeeping award

This crisis cannot be confronted with statistics

3 ways the coronavirus is affecting animals around the world

Why do medical students need to go abroad to become a doctor in 2017?

Cameron’s “No Brexit” campaign wins top business support as Tory front breaks

Support ‘winds of change’ in DR Congo to consolidate positive developments, urges UN mission chief

Trump blocks US warmongers from bombing Iran

Why European manufacturing SMEs in the South face fatal dangers

IMF: World cup and productivity

Commission reports on progress in risk reduction in the Banking Union and calls for faster progress on Capital Markets Union ahead of EU Leaders’ meetings

Human rights ‘core to sustainable development’: deputy UN chief

After globalization what? Europe’s long, straining shake-up post Davos wreckage

EU budget: Stepping up the EU’s role as a security and defence provider

FROM THE FIELD: Weather reports come to aid of Uganda’s farmers

UN health agency developing COVID-19 virus treatment master plan

‘A global measles crisis’ is well underway, UN agency chiefs warn

COVID-19 and the pursuit of financial inclusion in Pakistan

Access to healthcare is not enough – high quality care has to be the target

More Stings?



  1. it can’t

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s