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

Iraq: Solutions needed ‘urgently’ to quell ongoing violence, break political deadlock

Why diversity needs your star power, as well as sponsors

Biblioburro: The amazing donkey libraries of Colombia

‘Open, cordial, and frank discussions’ held over future Somalia-UN relationship

UN chief appeals for calm as Mali presidential election draws to a close

Entrepreneurship in a newly shaped Europe: what is the survival kit for a young Catalan and British entrepreneur in 2018?

France is about to start giving free breakfasts to disadvantaged schoolchildren

Why Europe’s high productive performance is discredited?


At Ministerial session, UN regional office in Beirut to focus on technology for sustainable development

How Japan became the world leader in floating solar power

Why is the World Health Organisation so much needed?

UN chief welcomes resolution to 27-year-old disagreement over renaming the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

MEPs demand end to EU arms exports to Saudi Arabia

Quality of air in Bucharest-Romania: is it fog or is it smog?

This is how India can become the next Silicon Valley

JADE President opens JADE Spring Meeting 2014

“Fortress Europe”, “Pegida” and its laughing stocks

Here’s how blockchain could stop corrupt officials from stealing school lunches

UN chief calls for Security Council to work with Myanmar to end ‘horrendous suffering’ of Rohingya refugees

European Commission 2020 Work Programme: An ambitious roadmap for a Union that strives for more

Drug laws must be amended to ‘combat racial discrimination’, UN experts say

In Tunisia, budding entrepreneurs can take a year off their job

‘Beyond reasonable doubt’, international court convicts notorious DR Congo rebel leader of war crimes

EU job-search aid worth €9.9 million for 1,858 former Air France workers

Hundreds of thousands migrants ready to cross the Mediterranean. Only a local matter?

Global health challenges require global medical students

Refugee crisis update: EU fails to relocate immigrants from Greece and Italy

MWC 2016 LIVE: Intel focuses on 5G “beyond the Powerpoint”

Here’s how India can soar in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Inflation and interest rates indicate urgent need for action

Window for a Brexit deal: Brussels to think again May’s proposal

The creative technology and its advancements

A Sting Exclusive: “Digital and mobile technologies are helping to achieve an economic success in Spain”, the Spanish Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Information Society Víctor Calvo-Sotelo reveals to the Sting at Mobile World Congress 2015

‘No hope’ global development goals can be achieved without women, says UN Assembly President

Is Germany’s political landscape becoming a breeding ground for extremism?

The EU can afford to invest trillions in support of employment

The jobs forecast is unsettled. It’s time for a reskilling revolution

The fat from your next takeaway meal could help clean up global shipping

Iraq needs support to ‘leave violent past behind’, says UN envoy as Security Council extends UN mission for one year

One good reason to feel less blue about the future of our oceans

European Employment Forum 2013 and not European Unemployment Forum 2014

‘Dangerous nationalism’ seriously threatens efforts to tackle statelessness: UNHCR chief

Human health – litmus paper for the climate change?

To improve women’s access to finance, stop asking them for collateral

ECB’s €1.14 trillion again unifies Eurozone; Germany approves sovereign debt risks to be pooled

Facebook-Cambridge Analytica: MEPs demand action to protect citizens’ privacy

EU Parliament approves CETA: the EU-Canada free trade deal sees the light in Trump’s gloomy era

Eurozone and Britain heading in different directions

Austrian Presidency priorities discussed in committees

Tax revenues in Asian and Pacific economies rebound

EU report: Implementation of reforms continues to bring EU and Ukraine closer together

How the Irish people were robbed by banks, the Commission and their own government

‘More time’ agreed for buffer zone, to spare three million Syrian civilians in Idlib

Achieving targets on energy helps meet other Global Goals, UN forum told

UN chief calls for ‘green and clean’ development in message for Africa Industrialization Day

Fighting forest fires in Europe – how it works

5 futuristic ways to fight cyber attacks

It’s time to end our ‘separate but unequal’ approach to mental health

Pedal power makes ‘positive impact on climate’, urges UN on World Bicycle Day

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