EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials (PhD studentship): Combined Electromagnetic and Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting from Low-speed Fluid Flows for Remote Monitoring

University of Exeter - Departments of Physics and Engineering

Joint supervisors: Prof Meiling Zhu, Dr Mustafa Aziz, Dr Yang Kuang

Industrial partner: assigned.

This project explores the application of piezoelectric composite and magnetic materials for energy harvesting from fluid flows for remote monitoring sensors. It fits the two of the sub-themes of the CDT: (1) acoustic and fluid-dynamic metamaterials; (2) magnonics, Spintronics and magnetic metamaterials. 
Wireless sensor networks are the very need of the government as well as industries to monitor remote environment and assets. However, replacing the depleted batteries, which are usually the only energy supply for those sensors, brings a significant cost and sometimes is even impossible when a large number of sensors are deployed. This has servery hindered the implementation of wireless sensor networks for remote monitoring [1].

Energy harvesting has the potential to provide a sustainable power source for wireless sensors by converting ambient energy sources to usable electricity, and thus enabling maintenance-free wireless sensor networks. Fluid (liquid) flows in the ambient environment are potentially a sustainable energy source for wireless sensors [2]. While on the large scale hydroelectric power plant has been used for a long period, energy harvesting from low-speed fluid flows in small scale for small electronic devices is still challenging because of the reduced transducer efficiency and reduced kinetic energy available, particularly when the transducer size is restricted by the application. Both piezoelectric (PE) and electromagnetic (EM) transducers work well for high-speed fluid flows. However, for low-speed flows, they are unable to generate enough power [3-4]. This has limited the application of fluid flows as an energy source for remote sensors. 

To address this challenge, the project aims to develop a novel energy harvesting technology from low-speed fluid flows with enough power output to supply remote sensors. Unlike previous approaches where a single transduction mechanism was used, this project will combine the EM and PE transduction mechanisms in one hybrid energy harvester to increase the electric power. New magnetic field configurations and mechanical transmissions will be explored to increase the efficiency of the EM transduction with low-speed flows. The turbulence and vortices due to the EM transducer will actuate the PE transducer, which will use novel piezoelectric composites (e.g. auxetic piezoelectric composite developed in our lab [5]) to increase its power density. The design of the energy harvester will take systematic considerations on the fluid dynamics, actuating methods and transduction mechanisms to ensure an optimised overall efficiency.

The cohort and community training approach of the CDT will provide the PhD candidate with a dynamic research environment with an opportunity to exchange knowledge and ideas with other students, and access to essential training and courses provided by the CDT. Given the multi-disciplinary nature of this project, the student will particularly benefit from the multi-disciplinary research environment and supervision team.  Moreover, the CDT will provide a good platform to disseminate research outcomes further and broaden the impact.

The project industrial partner is AutoNaut Ltd which  produces wave propelled unmanned surface vessel  for long endurance operation in Southern Ocean or Arctic and requires energy harvesting to power communication systems. This project will also contribute to the engagement of CDT with the industry.

This studentship is part of the Centre of Doctoral Training in Metamaterials. Please see all fully funded opportunities.

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