Using inexpensive materials configured and tuned to capture microwave signals, researchers at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering have designed a power-harvesting device with efficiency similar to that of modern solar panels.

The device wirelessly converts the microwave signal to direct current voltage capable of recharging a cell phone battery or other small electronic device.

It operates on a similar principle to solar panels, which convert light energy into electrical current. But the versatile energy harvester could be tuned to harvest the signal from other energy sources, including satellite signals, sound signals or Wi-Fi signals, the researchers say.

The key to the power harvester lies in its application of metamaterials, engineered structures that can capture various forms of wave energy and tune them for useful applications.

With additional modifications, the researchers said the power-harvesting metamaterial could potentially be built into a cell phone, allowing the phone to recharge wirelessly while not in use. This feature could, in principle, allow people living in locations without ready access to a conventional power outlet to harvest energy from a nearby cell phone tower instead.

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