MicroGen Powers Wireless Sensor Network at Rochester Institute of Technology

July 15, 2013 by Jeff Shepard

MicroGen Systems, Inc., the manufacturer of the first piezoelectric MicroElectroMechanical Systems (piezo-MEMS) based vibrational energy harvesters or micro-power generators (MPG), has teamed with Facilities Management Services at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to install and monitor a wireless sensor network (WSN) measuring temperature on building exhaust and air handling equipment. MicroGen completed this project as part of a NY State Energy Research Development Authority commercialization contract award.

MicroGen’s BOLT™ Power Cells were fitted on various exhaust fans and blowers in the RIT Science Building that exhibited a range of vibrational frequencies. BOLT Power Cells are 3.3Vdc power sources, which contain a piezo-MEMS MPG, ac-dc conversion electronics and a small amount of capacitive energy storage. They are intended to replace or extend the lifetime of batteries, providing greater than 100 microWatts to over 1.0 milliWatt at frequencies between 100 to 1500 Hz at low acceleration levels greater than or equal to 0.1 g (g = 9.8 m/s2). In this case study, Power Cells were used to enable eZ430 wireless sensor motes from Texas Instruments Incorporated in a WSN and temperature was monitored over a period of five weeks. MicroGen will leave a subset of the self-powered wireless sensors in place for continued analysis and study indefinitely.

Dr. Kathleen Vaeth, VP of Engineering for MicroGen indicated, “We are pleased that RIT gave us this opportunity to demonstrate powering of a WSN with our piezo-MEMS Power Cells in a real world setting. We have been able to show that our vibrational energy harvesters can enable operation of motes and sensors on a variety of equipment in rather harsh environments, and continue to provide power for data transmissions."

Catherine Ahern, PE, MSFM, the Director of Engineering Services, in the Facilities Management Services organization of RIT, and an adjunct professor stated, “This type of installation using wireless sensors and vibrational energy harvesting provides the flexibility for existing buildings to quickly implement a sensing system for monitoring building performance, which will help in energy conservation and maintenance costs. Coupling the MicroGen’s BOLT energy harvesting technology with the wireless motes also will be much less expensive than wired solutions in installation.”

A similar TI mote based WSN was recently set up at the Sensors Expo in Rosemont, IL on June 4-6th. TI Director Strategic Marketing, Mark Buccini praised this demonstration, “This indicates that vibrational energy harvesting on a MEMS level is a real world technology and something that will increase the usefulness of wireless sensors. MicroGen has brought this technology to the forefront.” He added, “I was truly impressed by the low acceleration level G-sensitivity. This will allow many new industrial and building based WSNs to be installed for situations where low vibration levels are present.”

MicroGen CFO/COO, Michael Perrotta commented, “This real environment installation proves the viability of MicroGen’s piezo-MEMS based energy harvesting solution in a typical industrial and building environment. We believe that this will enable further installations of WSNs as part of building management solutions, and accelerate conversion of existing buildings into ‘Smart buildings’ in the coming years.”