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Self-Powering Alarm System Fights Forest Fires and Monitors the Environment

Preventing and detecting wildfires could become a lot easier, thanks to new technology designed at Michigan State University. A team of engineers from the university has successfully created a forest fire detection and alarm system that only relies on power from the wind to stay fully charged and ready to go.

The device is a multilayered cylindrical triboelectric nanogenerator (or MC-TENG for short). It generates the power it needs directly from the tree branch it hangs from, harvesting energy as the branch moves in the wind.

“As far as we know, this is the first demonstration of such a novel MC-TENG as a forest fire detection system.”

“The self-powered sensing system could continuously monitor the fire and environmental conditions without requiring maintenance after deployment.”

lead author Changyong Cao, director of the Laboratory of Soft Machines and Electronics in MSU’s School of Packaging and assistant professor in the Packaging School and Departments of Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Unlike most traditional methods for monitoring and stopping forest fires, this new system is self-sufficient, and according to researchers would require little maintenance once deployed.

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The most basic version of this device is made up of two sleeves of special material. One is fitted inside the other; as they move against each other, the intermittent loss of contact creates electricity. This electricity is stored in a carbon-nanotube-based micro supercapacitor. With short but sustained gusts of wind, the MC-TENG can generate enough electricity to charge the supercapacitor in under three minutes.

The prototype was also outfitted with temperature sensors as well as a carbon monoxide sensor, to reduce the chances of getting a false-positive. Now that it has been fully fabricated, engineers will begin field testing the device to determine how it will function in real-world fire conditions. They also hope to add additional functionality to the device so that it will be able to function in a wide range of different environments.

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