A team of scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have developed a machine that converts temperature changes into electricity.
According to them, the energy harvesting is done through a thermal resonator: a device that captures heat on one side and radiates it over to the other.
As both sides try and reach equilibrium, the energy they say, can be caught using the process of thermoelectrics.
They mentioned that, the new thermal resonator could keep remote sensors powered up for years, just by using temperature swings like the natural ones between night and day.
Michael Strano one of the researchers explained that the concept was invented out of whole cloth.
“It’s something that can sit on a desk and generate energy out of what seems like nothing. We are surrounded by temperature fluctuations of all different frequencies all of the time. These are an untapped source of energy,” he said.
The team stated that, the thermal resonator can work in any kind of weather conditions, and even in the shade, as long as there are ambient temperature changes.
They explained that it could be fitted under solar panels to harvest excess heat.
The team however, want to test it on other types of temperature fluctuation: from the on-off cycling of a refrigerator, for example, or machinery in industrial plants.
According to them, it could also be used as a backup system to kick in if regular power sources start to fail.
They hinted that, planetary rovers could be powered by the technology, using the cycles between day and night to keep their batteries charged.
The method they say, doesn’t produce so much power that can do away with existing batteries and power grids, but has the potential to help in a lot of different scenarios.
“We’re surrounded by temperature variations and fluctuations, but they haven’t been well-characterised in the environment,” says Strano.