When Every Last Nanoamp Matters

You can get electricity from just about anything. That old crystal radio kit you built as a kid taught you that, but how about doing something a little more interesting than listening to the local AM station with an earpiece connected to a radiator? That’s what the Electron Bucket is aiming to do. It’s a power harvesting device that grabs electricity from just about anywhere, whether it’s a piece of aluminum foil or a bunch of LEDs.

The basic idea behind the Electron Bucket is to harvest ambient radio waves just like your old crystal radio kit. There’s a voltage doubler, a rectifier, and as a slight twist, a power management circuit that would normally be found in battery-powered electronics.

Of course, this circuit can do more than harvesting electricity from ambient radio waves. By connecting a bunch of LEDs together, it’s possible to send a few Bluetooth packets around. This is pretty impressive — the circuit is using LEDs as solar cells, which normally produce about 50nA of current at 0.5V in direct sunlight. By connecting 12 LEDs in parallel and series, it manages to harvest just enough energy to run a small wireless module. That’s impressive, and an interesting entry to the Power Harvesting Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

21 thoughts on “When Every Last Nanoamp Matters

  1. I wonder if a discone antenna (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discone_antenna) would be useful in this application. Since a discone has a very broad frequency coverage, it might maximize the amount of RF radiation harvested for this circuit. Set one up on a pole with one of these circuits could possibly serve as a self-charging night light. Probably too bulky an arrangement and not as good as the solar-power variety. Just a thought.

    1. I don’t have the numbers, but you can calculate this with a “radio link budget” that shows the power received from a x Watt transmitter at a specific distance, to find out if it is worthwhile. There should also be studies on RF noise levels in different environments or borrow a RF spectrometer, so you have an idea of frequency distribution and power. The spectrometer might even have a function to show combined received power from all sources. To spill the beans, the most power is from 60HZ wiring in the walls, but a dipole for that frequency is hundreds of miles long, so your disccone would be bigger than a mountain, so better with big coil of some miles of wire if you go low. Either way, you get the most power from urban and city areas. A device that can work everywhere, should use multiple sources for power, including solar, Seebeck and possible radio spikes from lighting.

      1. Meh, when I patent my zero point energy rectifier all of the free energy grifts like Cool Chips and E-cats will crumble before my feet. I just need some startup cash to fund my scam, please contact me for details this exciting opportunity. I can be reached in my offices Macau or Gibraltar where no scams are based.

    1. Anti-thoughts! I want to get electricity from human stupidity.
      We’d have an endless supply!
      A single president could run a country!
      Brexit voters could power the UK leaving the solar system!

        1. Apologies if I touched a nerve.
          As to where you sit wrt this fence I’m guessing.. Brexiter?
          Check out the analysis by Lord Ashcroft to see your capacity for anti-thought power generation. It’s impressive.

  2. Something that may be mildly entertaining to play,but has to rank pretty low on power generation,even on the micro/pico scale. Yes Iknow this doesn’t actuall generate power.

  3. It needs a whooping 2V from the source to even work according to the project page… That seems like a big dealbreaker, especially when you know chips like the BQ25504 actually work from a voltage as low as 80mV, or 330mV for a cold-start. And lets not forget that SN74AUP1G74 Flip-Flop already has a static power consumption of 0.9µA. The BQ25504 has a typical quiescent current of 0.33µA, so basically a third. If every nanowatt is important, you should try to minimize your losses and maximize your range of harvestable energy sources, or not?

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