Intel seeks leaner, greener power sources

Intel is researching how to power devices in ways that are both more convenient and greener.  They’re in the process of developing technology that can capture ambient sources of energy, such as sunlight, body heat, radiation from cell phone towers, and even the human energy expended to operate a hand-held device.  Move that finger around, and you’re simultaneously turning a tiny generator.

These inventions could eventually lead to cell phones that recharge themselves from their environment, relegating that all-too-familiar “low batt” warning to the pages of gadget history.

They haven’t refined the technology to provide enough power for that yet, though.  What they’re working on right now are tiny sensors that can be installed and never need maintenance — they power themselves from the environment, and report whatever they’re sensing over wireless.

One application is monitoring temperatures in data centers.  Self-powering sensors installed in the wall can report temperatures in various areas of the data center back to a central computer — that can then balance the air conditioning and server processing load to maximum advantage, and even predict where hot spots may occur and act preemptively.

Another application: implants in humans to monitor important bodily functions and wire your doctor if there’s a problem.  No need for a clunky battery pack, because it powers itself from your body heat.

When you think about it, our present technology is rather wasteful with its use of energy.  For instance, data centers consume about 1% of the world’s electricity, much of which is used for cooling — in other words, the part of the energy consumed that was converted to heat requires even more energy to transfer it elsewhere.  Wouldn’t it be great if data centers could convert that heat back into electricity instead?  That might make a real dent in our fossil fuel consumption, which would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, clean up the environment, and perhaps even decelerate global warming.  If we deploy enough devices that power themselves from ambient heat, maybe they’d even cool down the planet!  Huh? huh?  OK, maybe not.

But at least we’d be that much greener.  Cue Mr. Green:  :mrgreen:


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