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Energy harvesting: a cross-community call to action

Original article written by Adriana Hamacher from the Energy Harvesting SIG

The TSB’s ground swell competition “Energy harvesting for autonomous sensing” has one of the widest applications of any call to date. It’s collaborative both in nature and scope with energy harvesting applications having the potential to permeate: fields from nanotechnology to materials, electronics and sensors; industry sectors such as space, marine and automotives; commercial sectors such as building, home automation and process monitoring in manufacturing; extending the life of medical devices and, ultimately but crucially, powering the so-called Internet of things.

A sum of £1m is available for R&D feasibility and demonstrator projects using low-power energy harvesting technologies for autonomous sensing and it’s vital to point out that the range of this contest extends far from simply extending the life of batteries. Important as that is.


Within nanotechnology, for instance, uses include developing sensors for remote or difficult environments such as space, sea and battlefields.

Potential nanotech applications include infrastructure condition monitoring or heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) monitoring, implantable body sensors and sport performance monitoring.

Electronics and Sensors

Businesses or academic institutions involved in electronics or sensors will find an even greater array of uses for energy harvesting applications. Limited battery power is a major issue for sensors, where fit and forget is a dream scenario. 

For electronics, novel power management expertise is a valuable commodity. Similarly sought after would be a practitioner who can design non-conventional circuits for low power conversion from energy harvesting devices. Being able to holistically optimise circuit design to address the needs of a harvester, wireless communications, energy storage, sensor and microcontrollers, would be a boon indeed. 


For those involved in the materials industry,  efficiency, hybrid devices and non-PZT piezoelectric harvesters are of interest. Reduced dependence on toxic or scarce materials (e.g. PZT in piezoelectrics) is of pressing importance. 

Materials for energy harvesting, control and storage and for energy harvesting in harsh environments (e.g. higher temperature) are also relevant to this field.

Among the areas, identified by Materials professionals and academics in relation to the rectification and storage of harvested energy, materials for nanodevices, for improved passive components and to allow active rectification of energy stand out. This field is also interested in hybrid devices: electronics systems control and power processing hardware as an integrated structure with the active material (piezo, electrostatic or magnetic). 


A requirement to enter the competition is a consortium comprising at least two partners (either academia or business). Consortia are likely to comprise organisations with multidisciplinary expertise.

A partnership with energy harvesting developers would be hugely beneficial. Partnering with users is also recommended.

Established in energy harvesting?

Those already involved in energy harvesting may wish to take on new challenges. Addressing, for instance, new  applications: developing tools for power prediction from site surveys; new approaches;  hybrid devices and ideas for making energy harvesting more modular and less bespoke.

Other novel applications may include exploring opportunities to develop small scale versions of new third generation photovoltaics  (PV),  to power wireless sensing devices.

Internet of things

A convergence between increased power available from energy harvesting and a reduction in the power needs of many electronic devices is promising to open up many opportunities in autonomous sensing. The so-called ‘Internet of things’ – an ecosystem of connected smart devices - is a major enabler for energy harvesting.

This trend towards much greater prevalence of sensing across a huge range of industries is driving tremendous interest and the TSB has identified energy harvesting as an emerging technology with significant potential for the UK.

Broad scope

This competition is deliberately broad in scope. Projects could cover demonstrations of energy harvesting in new and challenging real world applications, exploration of novel energy harvesting techniques for practical use or of the potential to improve harvesting through developments in power management systems. Projects may range from proof of concept and feasibility studies through to small scale prototype systems tested in a relevant environment.

Key dates

Energy Harvesting Information & Project Idea Workshop
26th September 2012, Birmingham. Register here

Energy Harvesting for Autonomous Sensing Consortium Building Workshop 1
10th October 2012, London. Register here

Energy Harvesting for Autonomous Sensing Consortium Building Workshop 2
19th October 2012, South Wales. Register here

Energy Harvesting for Autonomous Sensing Consortium Building Workshop 3
31st October 2012, Glasgow. Register here

Competition briefing: 23 October 2012, London

The competition opens on 8 October. For more information, see the competition document.  

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