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Persistent energy harvesting in the harsh desert environment using a thermal resonance device: Design, testing, and analysis

Cottrill, Anton L., Zhang, Ge, Liu, Albert Tianxiang, Bakytbekov, Azamat, Silmore, Kevin S., Koman, Volodymyr B., Shamim, Atif, Strano, Michael S.
Applied energy 2019 v.235 pp. 1514-1523
electric power, electronics, energy, foams, harvesting, nickel, phase transition, temperature, theoretical models, Saudi Arabia
Thermal fluctuations in the environment are a ubiquitous, yet untapped energy source for harvesting. Our laboratory has introduced the concept of a thermal resonance device for this purpose, with potential to power wireless sensor networks (WSNs), devices embedded into structural elements, and electronics deployed in relatively inaccessible areas. This approach has particular advantages for the desert environment, where conventional energy harvesting devices are severely confounded by frequent sandstorms, extreme temperature and high solar fluence. Herein, we design, fabricate, and test a thermal resonator for the conversion of diurnal temperature fluctuations to electrical power in a harsh desert environment using a thermally conductive phase change composite as a high thermal effusivity material, specifically tuned to the temperature fluctuating environment of Thuwal, Saudi Arabia (22.3095°N, 39.1047°E). The composite consists of a highly porous and thermally conductive nickel foam impregnated with eicosane as a phase change material for enhanced thermal capacity. The high thermal effusivity material is incorporated into a rationally-designed thermal resonance device, which is tested for a period of two weeks in Saudi Arabia, extracting as high as 2 mW from approximately 10 °C diurnal temperature fluctuations. These experimental data provide a test of the theoretical model for the design and operation of the device. Overall, these results highlight the opportunity of employing thermal resonance devices for energy harvesting, particularly in the desert environment.