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Energy is an extremely critical resource for battery-powered wireless sensor networks (WSN), thus making energy-efficient protocol design a key challenging problem. Most of the existing energy-efficient routing protocols always forward packets along the minimum energy path to the sink to merely minimize energy consumption, which causes an unbalanced distribution of residual energy among sensor nodes, and eventually results in a network partition. In this paper, with the help of the concept of potential in physics, we design an Energy-Balanced Routing Protocol (EBRP) by constructing a mixed virtual potential field in terms of depth, energy density, and residual energy. The goal of this basic approach is to force packets to move toward the sink through the dense energy area so as to protect the nodes with relatively low residual energy. To address the routing loop problem emerging in this basic algorithm, enhanced mechanisms are proposed to detect and eliminate loops. The basic algorithm and loop elimination mechanism are first validated through extensive simulation experiments. Finally, the integrated performance of the full potential-based energy-balanced routing algorithm is evaluated through numerous simulations in a random deployed network running event-driven applications, the impact of the parameters on the performance is examined and guidelines for parameter settings are summarized. Our experimental results show that there are significant improvements in energy balance, network lifetime, coverage ratio, and throughput as compared to the commonly used energy-efficient routing algorithm.