Materials for Energy Harvesting

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Materials for energy harvesting are materials and devices that can capture and convert ambient energy from various sources, such as solar radiation, wind, vibrations, and heat, into usable electrical energy. This technology offers a sustainable and potentially ubiquitous source of power for low-power electronic devices, sensors, and other applications.

Impact on climate action

Materials for Energy Harvesting within Advanced Materials drive climate action by enabling efficient conversion of renewable energy sources into usable electricity. By enhancing the performance and durability of energy harvesting devices, these innovations accelerate the transition to clean energy, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.


  • Energy Harvesting Mechanisms: Different energy harvesting mechanisms are used to capture and convert ambient energy, including:
    • Photovoltaic Effect: Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity.
    • Piezoelectric Effect: Piezoelectric materials generate electricity when subjected to mechanical stress or vibrations.
    • Thermoelectric Effect: Thermoelectric materials convert temperature differences into electricity.
    • Electromagnetic Induction: Electromagnetic induction can be used to harvest energy from magnetic fields or radio waves.
  • Material Properties: The efficiency and effectiveness of energy harvesting materials depend on their specific properties, such as their ability to absorb and convert energy, their electrical conductivity, and their durability.
  • Device Design and Fabrication: Energy harvesting devices are designed and fabricated to optimize energy capture and conversion efficiency.

TRL : 4-8 (depending on the specific material and application)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • High-Efficiency Solar Cells: Advancements in solar cell technology, such as perovskite solar cells and organic solar cells, are improving efficiency and reducing costs, making solar energy harvesting more viable for a wider range of applications.
  • Flexible and Transparent Solar Cells: Flexible and transparent solar cells can be integrated into various surfaces, such as windows and building facades, to generate electricity without compromising aesthetics.
  • Piezoelectric Nanomaterials: Nanostructured piezoelectric materials, such as zinc oxide nanowires and piezoelectric polymers, offer enhanced energy harvesting capabilities.
  • Thermoelectric Materials with High Figure of Merit: Researchers are developing thermoelectric materials with higher figures of merit, which is a measure of their efficiency in converting heat into electricity.
  • Hybrid Energy Harvesting Systems: Hybrid systems combine multiple energy harvesting mechanisms to capture energy from various sources, improving reliability and power output.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Enhanced Solar Cell Technologies
  • Advancements in Perovskite Solar Cells
  • Flexible and Transparent Solar Cell Integration
  • Nanotechnology in Solar Energy Harvesting
  • Piezoelectric Nanomaterials for Energy Conversion
  • Thermoelectric Material Innovations
  • Hybrid Energy Harvesting Systems Integration
  • Radio Frequency (RF) Energy Harvesting
  • Motion and Light-Powered Sensors
  • Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting Devices
  • Energy Harvesting for Wireless Sensors
  • Wearable Electronics and Energy Harvesting
  • Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)
  • Industrial Monitoring with Energy Harvesting
  • Structural Health Monitoring Solutions
  • Self-Powered Device Implementations

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Powercast:
    • Technology Enhancement: Powercast specializes in radio frequency (RF) energy harvesting technology, which converts ambient RF signals into usable electrical power.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Powercast’s RF energy harvesting technology enables wireless power transmission over long distances, eliminating the need for batteries and traditional wired power sources in various applications.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Powercast serves industries such as IoT (Internet of Things), consumer electronics, industrial automation, and smart buildings, providing energy-efficient and maintenance-free power solutions for sensors, devices, and systems.
  • EnOcean:
    • Technology Enhancement: EnOcean develops self-powered wireless sensor solutions based on energy harvesting technology, including solar, motion, and thermal energy harvesting.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: EnOcean’s energy harvesting sensors and switches require no batteries or external power sources, making them ideal for building automation, smart homes, and IoT applications where energy efficiency and sustainability are key.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: EnOcean targets the building automation, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), lighting control, and facility management industries, providing energy-efficient and wireless solutions for monitoring and control systems.
  • Piezo Technologies:
    • Technology Enhancement: Piezo Technologies specializes in piezoelectric materials and devices for energy harvesting applications, which convert mechanical vibrations or pressure into electrical energy.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Piezo Technologies’ piezoelectric energy harvesting solutions offer high efficiency and reliability, making them suitable for powering sensors, actuators, and wireless devices in industrial, automotive, aerospace, and consumer electronics applications.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Piezo Technologies serves a wide range of industries requiring energy harvesting solutions, including automotive systems, structural health monitoring, wearable electronics, and IoT devices.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT is a frontrunner in research on materials for energy harvesting, focusing on developing materials and devices that can efficiently convert various forms of energy into usable electrical power.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the design and optimization of materials with unique properties, such as piezoelectric materials, thermoelectric materials, and photovoltaic materials, for harvesting energy from mechanical motion, heat differentials, and sunlight.
    • End-use Applications: MIT’s work has diverse applications in renewable energy generation, wearable electronics, and autonomous sensors. For example, they’re developing flexible piezoelectric nanomaterials for harvesting energy from body movements and lightweight thermoelectric materials for converting waste heat into electricity in automotive and industrial settings.
  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: UC Berkeley conducts cutting-edge research on materials for energy harvesting, exploring novel materials and device architectures to enhance energy conversion efficiency and scalability.
    • Uniqueness: They are known for their work on organic and nanoscale materials for energy harvesting applications, leveraging concepts from chemistry, physics, and materials science to develop innovative solutions.
    • End-use Applications: UC Berkeley’s research finds applications in self-powered electronics, environmental monitoring, and sustainable infrastructure. For instance, they’re investigating organic photovoltaic materials for low-cost solar cells and nanogenerators for harvesting energy from ambient vibrations in urban environments.
  • Georgia Institute of Technology:
    • Research Focus: Georgia Tech’s research on materials for energy harvesting encompasses a wide range of approaches, including flexible electronics, nanomaterials, and bio-inspired systems, to capture and convert energy from diverse sources.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves interdisciplinary collaborations, combining expertise in materials science, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering to develop multifunctional materials and devices for energy harvesting.
    • End-use Applications: Georgia Tech’s work has applications in wearable technology, wireless sensors, and smart infrastructure. For example, they’re developing flexible piezoelectric nanogenerators for powering wearable devices and energy-harvesting pavement systems for generating electricity from foot traffic in urban areas.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Energy harvesting technologies are being implemented in various commercial applications, including:

  • Wireless Sensors: Energy harvesting is used to power wireless sensors for environmental monitoring, industrial monitoring, and structural health monitoring.
  • Wearable Electronics: Energy harvesting can be used to power wearable devices, such as fitness trackers and smartwatches, extending battery life and reducing the need for frequent charging.
  • Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV): BIPV systems integrate solar cells into building materials, such as roof tiles and windows, to generate electricity.