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Batteries not included: How small-scale energy harvesting will power the future

Consumption overload

There are more than a few things wrong with this picture. For one, whether we’re continually buying new batteries, recharging rechargeables, or merely running devices on AC current, power is an expensive, wallet-draining resource that we never seem to stop consuming.

dead battery icon energy power gadgets battery lifeBesides the monetary cost of staying juiced up, there are costs to the planet as well. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans purchase nearly three billion dry cell batteries annually to run radios, toys, cell phones, watches, mobile computers, and portable power tools. And even in today’s somewhat enlightened society, the vast majority of these are eventually tossed into landfills. Here they’ll decompose over the course of decades, leeching all sorts of caustic substances into the surrounding soil and groundwater. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – from hydroelectric dams to nuclear power plants and diesel generators, our thirst for watts hammers the planet.

“Because many of the personal, portable electronics we now use don’t require much electricity to begin with, opportunities for harvesting previously negligible amounts of energy are popping up everywhere.”

Which is where energy harvesting may save the day. Wind turbines and solar power immediately come to mind as examples of ways to tap the environment around us for clean power, but both are limited by the availability of the power source they harvest. You can’t grab nearly as much energy when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

Yet there’s a whole other level of energy harvesting on a smaller scale. Because many of the personal, portable electronics we now use don’t require much electricity to begin with, opportunities for harvesting previously negligible amounts of energy are popping up everywhere.

And they could mean phones, music players and laptops you’ll never have to charge again.

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