Forget solar or wind. Water droplets could soon power your home

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If a team of UH researchers are on to something, water droplets on your windows and roofs could eventually harvest energy to power electronics in your home.

David Ma, a University of Hawaii professor of civil engineering, and his team a have found a new way to harvest energy from water drops.

In fact, they have already powered up 15 small LED lights from a single water drop.

Ma, who is also an interim dean at the engineering school, found inspiration to develop new ways to harvest energy when he was having an issue with a project.

Ma and his team were deploying sensors on Hawaii bridges to monitor activity and vibrations. This was done to see how much stress the bridge was being put under daily.

"We ran into this problem of monitoring because of the sensors," he said.

The wireless sensors on the road would run out of juice quickly, with no immediate way to charge them up. Ma wanted to find a way to change that.

"We wanted to look into powering them with whatever energy was in that environment," he said.

Ma and his team received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation in 2008, and have since developed a way to exponentially harvest energy from water drops. It's something that hasn't been effectively done, at least compared to Ma's scale.

In simple terms, water drops could build up electrical charges by making contact with two different water resistant surfaces. Each time the drop touches a new surface, its electrical charge grows exponentially.

That's how Ma and his team were able to charge the 15 LED light bulbs.

He said that besides creating "smart" roofs and windows, the technology could possibly be implemented in clothing and umbrellas.

"We're trying to look at increasing the scale," Ma said. "To possibly charge things up like a phone."

And Ma said that this technology could have bigger implications for other ways to harvest energy from water.

"Something bigger might be possible like using seawater and waves for energy," he said.

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