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Energy Transitions Research at the University of Cambridge

New green materials could power smart devices using ambient light

Researchers have developed environmentally friendly materials that could harvest enough energy from indoor light to power wireless smart devices.

We are increasingly using more smart devices like smartphones, smart speakers, and wearable health and wellness sensors in our homes, offices, and public buildings. However, the batteries they use can deplete quickly and contain toxic and rare environmentally damaging chemicals, so researchers are looking for better ways to power the devices.

One way to power them is by converting indoor light from ordinary bulbs into energy, in a similar way to how solar panels harvest energy from sunlight, known as solar photovoltaics. However, due to the different properties of the light sources, the materials used for solar panels are not suitable for harvesting indoor light.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and Soochow University in China have discovered that new green materials currently being developed for next-generation solar panels could be useful for indoor light harvesting. The team investigated perovskite-inspired materials, which were created to circumvent problems with materials called perovskites, which were developed for next-generation solar cells. Although perovskites are cheaper to make than traditional silicon-based solar panels and deliver similar efficiency, perovskites contain toxic lead substances. This drove the development of perovskite-inspired materials, which are instead based on safer elements like bismuth and antimony.

The Internet of Things is critical for many areas, such as improved healthcare, energy conservation, transportation or control of smart buildings. New generations of wireless connected IoT devices function with low-power electronics ideally suited to operate with energy-scavenging devices."

Professor Judith Driscoll, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge 

In addition to their eco-friendly nature, these materials could potentially be processed onto unconventional substrates such as plastics and fabric, which are incompatible with conventional technologies. Therefore, lead-free perovskite-inspired materials could soon enable battery-free devices for wearables, healthcare monitoring, smart homes, and smart cities.

Click here for the University of Cambridge article.
Click here for the Advanced Energy Material (2020). DOI: 10.1002/aenm.202002761 publication


Image credit: Luis Tosta on Unsplash