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Explained: Energy harvesting and how it will power the future

Samsung's SolarCell Remote that was introduced at CES 2022 use RF waves in the environment and ambient light for charging its battery.

Samsung Solar Remote

Source: Samsung


Samsung at CES 2022 introduced a whole bunch of devices including TVs and monitors to name a few. Amid its long lineup of products was a humble remote. But this new remote doesn’t function the way all other remotes that you have used until now. The newly introduced remote dubbed as the ‘SolarCell Remote’ is a successor to the company’s Eco Remote that was introduced last year at CES 2021. Also Read - Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review: A flagship that was worth buying in 2021

What makes Samsung’s new SolarCell Remote special is that it not only charges its battery from the ambient light indoors and outdoors but it is also capable of doing so using the radio-frequency sources around us such as the Wi-Fi, which functions on a high-frequency of 2.4GHz. Samsung’s Eco Remote, on the other hand, is capable of using light – either from the sun or light sources indoors – for charging its battery. Of course, this remote cannot soak up energy from a radio frequency source from afar. It needs to be within a reasonable distance of 40 meters to do so. If not, it uses ambient light to juice up its resources. Also Read - Apple regains top spot in global smartphone shipments as Samsung slips

While all of this sounds like a page from a science-fiction novel, the kind of things that scientists hope to achieve one day, in reality it isn’t. Backing Samsung’s new SolarCell Remote is a technique called ‘RF Harvesting’, which is a form of energy harvesting technique. Also Read - Apple, Samsung to make smartphones worth Rs 37,000 crore in 2022 under govt’s PLI scheme

What is energy harvesting and how does it work?

Energy harvesting is a technique wherein small amounts of ambient energy from a variety of sources – light as light, radio waves, piezoelectric crystals – available in nature are used for powering wireless devices. Energy harvesting sources can be classified into two groups – natural sources are the ones that are available readily in the environment such as sunlight, wind, radio waves and geothermal heat, artificial sources, on the other hand, are those generated from human or system activities such as human motion.

Natural sources include kinetic energy that is generated from motion, thermal energy that is generated from heat, solar energy that is generated from the sun or ambient lighting, piezoelectric energy that is generated from piezoelectric crystals, energy from radio waves, wind energy, and energy from the ocean currents and vibration energy. Examples of artificial sources include human motion and energy harvested from electromagnetic induction.

As far as harvesting technique is concerned, the method changes with the source. For instance, RF Harvesting or radio frequency, which uses radio waves for generating electrical energy uses the radio frequency sources in our homes such as Wi-Fi routers, TVs, phones and radio for converting the energy that they are constantly emitting into electrical energy. Conceptually, it is similar to how sunlight or ambient light is used for powering devices.

The harvesting system includes a special antenna to capture the RF waves, which will then be converted into DC power, which is used by electronic devices. In the case of the energy from the ocean, dams and even the, the water (or the wind) moves a generator, which then generates electricity that can be used by the electrical devices.

One sub-system that is common to all, despite the energy source, is the storage system, which stores the energy for the times when the external energy source isn’t available. It’s somewhat similar to how a Bluetooth speaker stores power for the times when you cannot use it by plugging it in a charging point.

What are the benefits of using this technique and how is it being used right now?

The answer to that question is pretty straight-forward and easy to understand. E-waste or electronic waste is a raging global issue right now. Millions of disposable batteries end up in landfills every year. They not only pollute our land, rendering it useless – at least as far as farming is concerned – but the chemicals from these batteries also pollute the water sources under the soil.

Amid such circumstances, using devices with energy harvesting functionality can help in reducing the electronic waste generated globally by leaps and bounds. All of this will ultimately be beneficial for our environment.
But there is more to it than that. Using devices with energy harvesting techniques will also help in reducing our overall energy consumption. The energy generated from natural sources is available free of cost, unlike the conventional energy that we get in our homes, which we have to pay for. So, devices that would use various energy harvesting sources for juicing up their batteries will essentially be charging themselves for free. All of this will also help in reducing our dependence on external battery sources
Additionally, utilising this technique will also lead to more efficient product design as a device using energy harvesting technique would not need a separate port for charging or as a power source. Moreover, it will also protect the devices from a moisture source.

The utility of using various energy harvesting depends on the sources and the technology available to convert the energy from the specific sources in a lossless manner. For instance, solar energy, energy from water via dams and wind energy is already being used commercially for generating electricity.
Similarly, Samsung has demonstrated using energy and radio waves for powering its remotes.

Additionally, Japanese company Seiko, back in the 1980s, had introduced a quartz watch under the name Auto-Quartz that used energy from piezoelectric crystal – quartz – for powering the watch. Then in the early 1990s, the company rolled out watches under the brand name ‘Kinetic’ that used energy generated from hand movements for powering the watch.

Apart from that, energy from radio waves is already being used in RFID tags – such FASTag – for searching, identifying, and tracking items and people.

How will energy harvesting be used in the future?

As far as the future of energy harvesting is concerned, theoretically, this technique can be used almost anywhere batteries are being used. Samsung’s SolarCell Remote and Seiko’s watches are some of many use cases wherein energy harvesting techniques are being used for powering low-energy devices. Research is going on to use this technique for powering AIoT devices such as smart speakers, smart plugs, and smart bulbs that demand constant electric supply. Furthermore, it is also likely to find a use case in devices such as smartwatch (though with a different source) and even power banks that require energy storage for a long period of time.

Of course, things aren’t as simple as they might seem. Much research needs to be done to make the energy conversion system more efficient and lossless. Furthermore, research is also required for integrating these energy harvesting systems in the existing lineup of devices. With the renewed interest in the energy harvesting system – owing to increased focus on the environment – we should see companies introducing devices using this technique soon.

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  • Published Date: January 6, 2022 9:12 PM IST



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