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Grant funding allows further research into wireless energy transmission

Charles A. Robinson, a graduate student of the electrical engineering program from Charlotte, Tennessee, works with Charles Van Neste on the energy harvesting project at the Shipley Farm.One Tennessee Tech faculty member is working on research to show that energy can, in fact, be sent through the soil, an idea that has been discussed since the 1800s, but never accomplished.

Charles Van Neste, research faculty in the Center for Energy Systems Research, recently received a $175,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create a multi-sensor probe network for continuous monitoring of soil health.

“I’m inspired by the work of (Nikola) Tesla,” Van Neste said. “He always claimed that he could transmit through the earth, and, to this day, no one really knows what he did or if it was possible. What this research is showing is that there is at least a body of precedence that does allow us to send power, maybe not over the entire planet, but it can definitely be regional.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to create a network of multi-sensor probes across fields in multiple locations that are wirelessly powered by a novel electromagnetic technology. This will provide for continuous and uninterrupted monitoring of soil parameters at many places in the field that indicate soil microbial activity and how it changes over time.

Van Neste has been researching this over the past few years, starting in Canada and then moving the research to Tennessee.

“The environment is much better here and we’re fortunate to have the Shipley Farm to do the research on,” he said.

With the one system currently built, electric pulses create ripples over and through the soil that go outward in all directions; but by having multiple wells, they will be able to steer and intensify where the energy goes.

 “This research will produce new knowledge and engineering techniques that will enhance farmers’ abilities to make better decisions about precision management of crops; leading to reduced amounts and costs of farming inputs, like fertilizer and labor. Farmers would then be able to apply only what is needed by crops and soil to maintain soil health,” Van Neste said. “It will reduce waste, improve crop yield, reduce environmental contamination and ultimately generate greater economic income for the nation and its farmers.”

He has spoken to some local farmers about the project and is getting good feedback.

“It’s hard for farmers to know where to water and where to fertilize,” he said. “These sensors will give them a better idea of how to manage their crops. Without batteries, we can have many sensors over the entire field.”

The project is a collaboration between Tennessee Tech, the University of Tennessee Knoxville, who will gather the data, and State University of New York at Buffalo who will be building the sensor.

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