Printing Low-Cost Energy Harvesting Devices

September 17, 2015 by Jeff Shepard

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) has announced a new project to develop a novel printed energy harvesting device that is powered by near-field communication (NFC). The device will facilitate the wider adoption of NFC-enabled applications in consumer packaging, document and brand security, in addition to wireless sensor networks for defense, healthcare and medical devices. The 18 month Innovate UK project titled 'HaRFest' is being led by PragmatIC Printing Ltd, a global leader in flexible integrated circuits, and involves CPI alongside the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Large-Area Electronics, represented by its academic partners, the University of Cambridge and the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating (Swansea University).

The aim of the project is to develop and scale up production of the energy harvesting device which is suitable for integration with sensors, displays and storage devices. The device will house a printed antenna alongside printed passive and active components, including an array of tuning capacitors. The device will be able to be tuned to resonant frequency and thus maximize the harvested power output.

New opportunities are opening up to integrate high volume, low cost printed sensors into everyday products. With applications present in a number of market sectors, the ‘Internet of Things’ and NFC are increasingly gathering attention from businesses, technology providers and most importantly the modern day consumer. NFC allows consumers to intuitively communicate with everyday items such as product packaging. The printing of electronic functionality has enabled product designers to embed technology into their designs, creating innovative components that are low cost, smarter, lightweight and wireless.

Applications are numerous, from interactive point-of-sale products and branding to disposable printed bio-sensors used in blood analysis and unobtrusive printed smart labels that allow for identification and anti-counterfeiting control. The integration of advanced printed sensors into packaging opens up a wide range of market opportunities to create products with added value. Sensors can be designed to indicate the validity or quality of a product or whether the packaging has been subject to tampering or excursions during its transport and storage prior to purchase.

Commenting on the project Sandy Gunn, Business Development Manager at CPI said: “The project brings together a strong consortium with varied and complementary expertise in printed electronics, logic circuitry, applications testing and final device integration. The challenge ahead is to develop the energy harvesting technology which is proven at laboratory scale and to move it towards the volumes and price points that facilitate mass market adoption. Once concluded the project will spearhead the uptake of battery-free radio frequency powered systems into intelligent packaging, anti-counterfeiting and other fast moving consumer goods products.”

Richard Price, Chief Operating Officer at PragmatIC commented: “HaRFest addresses a wide range of potentially high volume applications identified by PragmatIC’s customers, and we look forward to moving these into commercial production.”