Design of vibrational and solar energy harvesting systems for powering wireless sensor networks in bridge structural health monitoring applications

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Adams, Jacob Allan

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Structural health monitoring systems provide a promising route to real-time data for analyzing the current state of large structures. In the wake of two high-profile bridge collapses due to an aging highway infrastructure, the interest in implementing such systems into fracture-critical and structurally deficient bridges is greater now than at any point in history. Traditionally, these technologies have not been cost-effective as bridges lack existing wiring architecture and the addition of this is cost prohibitive. Modern wireless sensor networks (WSN) now present a viable alternative to traditional networking; however, these systems must incorporate localized power sources capable of decade-long operation with minimal maintenance. To this end, this thesis explores the development of two energy harvesting systems capable of long-term bridge deployment with minimal maintenance. First, an electromagnetic, linear, vibrational energy harvester is explored that utilizes the excitations from passing traffic to induce motion in a translating permanent magnet mass. This motion is then converted to electrical energy using Faraday’s law of induction. This thesis presents a review of vibrational energy harvesting literature before detailing the process of designing, simulating, prototyping, and testing a selected design. Included is an analysis of the effects of frequency, excitation amplitude, load, and damping on the power production potential of the harvester. Second, a solar energy harvester using photovoltaic (PV) panels is explored for powering the critical gateway component of the WSN responsible for data aggregation. As solar energy harvesting is a more mature technology, this thesis focuses on the methodologies for properly sizing a solar harvesting system and experimentally validating the selected design. Fabrication of the prototype system was completed and field testing was performed in Austin, TX. The results validate the selected system’s ability to power the necessary 14 W DC load with a 0° panel azimuth angle (facing direct south) and 45° tilt.



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