Research Magazine 2006

Power failure? Magnets may help


Widespread outages caused by fierce thunderstorms and tornadoes bring to mind the need for dependable emergency power. Candlelight may be romantic, but it won’t drive the refrigerator.

Bernie Svihel, a researcher and senior lecturer in the UT Arlington Electrical Engineering Department, has a rare solution. Rare earth magnets, actually.

“It’s Maxwell’s first equation in electromagnetic theory,” Svihel explained. “You pass magnets by a coil, producing a voltage proportional to the relative velocity between the magnet and the coil. By their very nature, rare earth magnets made of materials such as neodymium or samarium provide a stronger magnetic field than conventional magnets, and they hold their magnetism for a longer period of time. ”

In his home workshop, Svihel built a crude, fan-powered generator using salvaged materials, including four 1-inch-diameter rare earth magnets. Its output measured 40 volts.

He then contacted mechanical engineering Associate Professor Panos Shiakolas, who verified the generator’s performance in his lab.

Svihel and graduate student Ritam Kharbanda are developing advanced models for predicting generator performance with higher outputs. Energy could be produced by using motion from wind, waterfalls, flow meters in water lines or attached to any rotating machine and stored in large banks of capacitors or batteries.

It’s low-cost, renewable energy for emergency situations or remote locations without electric service.

— Roger Tuttle