Engineers at Duke University have designed a breakthrough gadget that ‘harvests’ background microwave radiation and converts it into electricity, with the same efficiency as solar panels.

The development, unveiled on Thursday, raises exciting possibilities such as recharging a phone wirelessly and providing power to remote locations that can’t access conventional electricity.

And the researchers say that their inexpensive invention is remarkably versatile. It could be used to capture ‘lost’ energy from a range of sources such as satellite transmissions, sound signals or Wi-Fi.

The Duke engineers used metamaterials, which their press release describes as ‘engineered structures that can capture various forms of wave energy and tune them for useful applications.’

They say the device harvested microwaves with an efficiency of 36.8 percent, similar to modern solar cells that capture light energy.