Field Application of a High-Power Density Electromagnetic Energy Harvester to Power Wireless Sensors in Transportation Infrastructures


Traffic-induced vibration of transportation infrastructures is a reliable source of kinetic energy, which can be harvested to power conventional monitoring
sensors and peripherals installed on bridges, thereby reducing some dependence on non-renewable energy. The highway statistics shows that the average daily vehicles miles travelled in the US is more than 5 billion. This is a massive source of kinetic energy that lies unused in the national transportation network. This study focuses on the design and field testing of a high-power density electromagnetic energy harvester (EMEH) to convert such a kinetic energy into electrical energy for powering ubiquitous sensors installed on transportation infrastructures. The principal investigators have been investigating the design of the EMEH using analytical and finite element simulations, as well as, its laboratory prototype fabrication and testing in the first phase. The proposed EMEH utilizes the innovative concept of creating planar array of large number of small permanent magnets through certain optimization criteria to achieve strong and focused magnetic field in a particular orientation. The proposed EMEH has a compact design, such that it can be integrated into the power circuit of wireless sensor nodes (WSNs) and installed at suitable part of a transportation infrastructure without elaborate wiring. It is capable of continuously charging the rechargeable battery of a WSN, thereby extending the lifespan of the monitoring system, almost, indefinitely. For the next phase of this research, the principal investigators propose the development and field implementation of a larger scale and more compact version of the EMEH with a minimum of 500 mW output power to be installed on selected transportation infrastructures for the evaluation of its energy harvesting efficiency and capability to derive different types of monitoring sensors and peripherals. Three different highway bridges with different fundamental frequencies, ideally between 2Hz to 8Hz, will be selected for the field testing of the EMEH. An acceleration sensor will be used to record the traffic-induced vibration of each bridge during a normal daily traffic that after signal processing is used to measure the fundamental frequency of that bridge. The dynamic characteristics of the proposed EMEH (i.e. tip mass and spring stiffness) will be modified to put it into a resonant condition with the bridge by matching their natural frequencies. The output power will be monitored and used to continuously charge a rechargeable battery powering a wireless sensor. The focus is on the feasibility of the proposed EMEH to power sensors that are used to regularly monitor the structural integrity of materials and components of highway bridges such as acceleration and temperature sensors.

Research Objectives & Deliverables

The key objective of this research is to fabricate and field test a high-power density electromagnetic energy harvester (EMEH) to provide a power source for conventional sensors installed on transportation infrastructures. This EMEH is expected to be simple, but effective in harvesting kinetic energy and converting it to electric power. Practical and economic feasibility and field implementation of the device on three steel-girder (or truss) highway bridges with three different fundamental frequencies will also be investigated in this work. Based on detailed numerical simulations and modeling, a prototype model of the device will be fabricated and then will be installed on three bridges to demonstrate the technology and its effectiveness in powering typical health monitoring sensors including acceleration sensors. Hence, the expected outcome of this research are:

  • Development and field demonstration of the electromagnetic energy harvester to derive wireless sensors.
  • Development of technical tools and design instruction to install and maintain the EMEH on highway bridges.


Project Deliverables include:

  • A detailed report on a field study to locate three highway bridges and record and analyze their acceleration response during normal daily traffic.
  • A detailed report on the analytical/numerical modeling, design, optimization, fabrication, and field testing of the proposed EMEH, including advanced knowledge on the modeling of the large-scale electromagnetic arrays of permanent magnets arranged according to uniform, alternative, and Halbach arrays. This report will describe the feasibility of the proposed EMEH to power conventional sensors and systems used for structural health monitoring of highway bridges.


Anil K. Agrawal

Anil Agrawal


Mohsen Amjadian

Mohsen Amjadian


Hani Nassif

Hani Nassif


Principal InvestigatorAnil K. Agrawal
Funding SourceGrove School of Engineering (GSOE) (Release time/student fellowship and tuition fees)
Total Project Cost$55,000
USDOT Award #69A3551747124 
Implementation of Research OutcomesThe practical and economic feasibility and implementation of the EMEH will be demonstrated through its detailed field testing on selected highway bridges. Research outcomes will also be disseminated through a seminar for City/State DOT engineers.
Impacts/Benefits of Implementation

This research will lead to the development of a high-power density electromagnetic energy harvester to power monitoring sensors. This will result in the implementation of monitoring sensor networks that do not need batteryfor operation and can be ubiquitously installed on transportation infrastructures. This will make significant contribution in enabling the concept of smart cities through ubiquitous sensing.

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