Browse Definitions:

ambient energy scavenging

Ambient energy scavenging, also called energy harvesting or power harvesting, is the process of obtaining usable energy from natural and human-made sources that surround us in the everyday environment. 

In most locations on earth, there is abundant ambient electromagnetic (EM) energy from cellular, television and radio transmitters, as well as satellite and other wireless communication systems. Other sources include physical motion, visible light, heat from the sun and the earth's interior, wind, ocean waves, ocean tidal currents, river currents and sound waves. 

Human activities inevitably produce waste energy that can go to productive use if harnessed and stored. For example, when you walk down the street, you move your arms and legs, generating kinetic energy to propel yourself, and also thermal energy as friction with your clothes, the surrounding air, and the pavement beneath your feet. An ambient energy scavenging device can convert most or all of this wasted energy into electrical energy that you can use (for example) to charge your cell phone battery.

The concept of ambient energy scavenging has existed for decades. In recent years, mounting interest in alternative energy has accelerated the pace of research. Here are a few examples of current research:

  • The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing an integrated energy scavenging and storage system for use with portable electronics, weaponry and vehicles, among other things. The integration of renewable energy with storage could enable batteries that would constantly remain charged. 
  • Technology from a company called Voltree harvests the metabolic energy of trees and converts it to electricity that power wireless sensor networks used to detect and control forest fires.
  • Piezoelectric (PE) generators, created with crystals that give off a charge under pressure, are being used or tested under roadways, walkways and in sports stadiums to obtain usable energy from traffic and activity above them. For example, an Israeli company called Innowattech placed PE generators beneath 33 feet of highway. The company estimates that such devices under a half-mile of a busy highway could generate enough electricity to power 250 homes.


Continue reading about ambient energy scavenging:

Faruk Yildiz outlines several ambient energy scavenging methods.

Engineers at Georgia Tech have developed a method of harvesting ambient electromagnetic energy.

See more about DARPA's  energy scavenging and storage system project.

Piezoelectric materials may provide an alternative for scavenging energy from physical vibrations such as sound waves.

This was last updated in March 2012

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.


File Extensions and File Formats

Powered by:


  • risk map (risk heat map)

    A risk map, also known as a risk heat map, is a data visualization tool for communicating specific risks an organization faces.

  • internal audit (IA)

    An internal audit (IA) is an organizational initiative to monitor and analyze its own business operations in order to determine ...

  • pure risk (absolute risk)

    Pure risk, also called absolute risk, is a category of threat that is beyond human control and has only one possible outcome if ...


  • federated identity management (FIM)

    Federated identity management (FIM) is an arrangement that can be made among multiple enterprises to let subscribers use the same...

  • cross-site scripting (XSS)

    Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a type of injection security attack in which an attacker injects data, such as a malicious script, ...

  • firewall

    In computing, a firewall is software or firmware that enforces a set of rules about what data packets will be allowed to enter or...



  • business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR)

    Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) are closely related practices that describe an organization's preparation for ...

  • business continuity plan (BCP)

    A business continuity plan (BCP) is a document that consists of the critical information an organization needs to continue ...

  • call tree

    A call tree -- sometimes referred to as a phone tree -- is a telecommunications chain for notifying specific individuals of an ...


  • volume manager

    A volume manager is software within an operating system (OS) that controls capacity allocation for storage arrays.

  • external storage device

    An external storage device, also referred to as auxiliary storage and secondary storage, is a device that contains all the ...

  • NetApp SolidFire

    NetApp SolidFire is a business division of NetApp Inc. that specializes in all-flash storage systems.


  • hybrid hard disk drive (HDD)

    A hybrid hard disk drive is an electromechanical spinning hard disk that contains some amount of NAND Flash memory.