Top 10 Energy Harvesting Developments in 2012

December 26, 2012 by Jeff Shepard

The Internet of things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications will be major areas of focus for the electronics industry in 2013. Both the IoT and M2M communications will, in turn, drive demand for improved energy harvesting technologies. Significant developments in IoT, M2M and energy harvesting began accelerating last year. The following "top 10" developments selected by the PowerPulse editors highlight important trends in energy harvesting that will continue in 2013 and beyond.

10: Printed Thermoelectric Generators Demonstrated by Fraunhofer at Electronica

At last year's Electronica 2012 trade fair, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (IFAM) in Bremen presented a printed thermogenerator, which can be tailored exactly to technical specifications. The IFAM researchers have developed new production processes to custom manufacture the thermoelectric generators. Using a combination of metallic and thermoelectrical materials which are successively applied, the researchers manufacture structures which can be used as thermoelectrical generators. The major advantage of this is that the printed thermogenerators can be tailored exactly to the technical surfaces. This makes the sensors less susceptible to faults because the energy supply can be adapted directly to the respective requirements.

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9: Powercast Chipset and RF Energy Harvesting Reference Design Enables Low-Cost Wireless Power over Distance

Powercast Corp., a provider of wireless power technology, announced its RF-based wireless power chipset and reference design for embedded, low-power, wireless charging applications. The chipset and reference design, available for license, will make it easy and more affordable for OEMs to embed Powercast's core RF energy-harvesting technology into their battery-less, or rechargeable battery-based devices, enabling RF energy (radio waves) to perpetually power them. Powercast's embedded technology will convert RF energy received from either dedicated RF transmitters or ambient sources (such as mobile phones) into dc power. This wireless, embedded power supply then powers or charges its devices from within, eliminating connectors, charging contacts, and the need to replace batteries. Applications include wireless sensors for remote monitoring, portable electronic devices, and other low-power devices.

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8: G24 Innovations Claims Record for Recycling Indoor Light to Electricity

G24 Innovations announced that it has achieved ground-breaking efficiency rates for the indoor performance of its Dye-Sensitised Cells. At an average of 26% conversion efficiency, a new cell composition has broken the company's previous record of 15%, which the company says is already recognized by Texas Instruments' Solar Lab as the most efficient indoor light energy harvesting technology on the market.

The breakthrough, which the company says rates its new PV cell as almost five times more powerful than its nearest commercial competitor, is based on recent work by Professor Michael Graetzel and colleagues at the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Professor Graetzel's dye-sensitised cell invention is recognised as coming close to mimicking the light reaction in nature's photosynthesis.

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7: Embedded Thermoharvesting Wireless Sensor from Micropelt and IMST Offers Life-Long Self-Sustaining Status Monitoring

Micropelt, German vendor of chip thermogenerators and thermal energy harvesting micro power sources, and IMST, German specialist in low power wireless solutions, announced the TE-CORE/RF — a new, modular, self-sustaining wireless sensor kit. An embedded Micropelt thermogenerator which converts heat from a warm surface into electricity, provides the system power. A difference of 10°C (18°F) or more between surface and air temperatures drives the ZigBee module iM222A, member of the family of WiMOD radio modules of IMST, to transmit data every 2 seconds. The pre-certified iM222A uses Texas Instruments' Z-Stack protocol.

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6: Energy Harvesting Costs Drop by 50%

According to Darnell Group's fourth-edition analysis of "Energy Harvesting & Related Energy Storage Devices, Worldwide Forecasts", the energy harvesting (EH) and wireless sensor market has been negatively impacted in the near-term by the general down-turn in the economy and particularly by the slow-down in the construction industry. At the same time, there has been acceleration in technology development in this sector. The ability of energy harvesting devices to deliver increasing amounts of energy has grown faster than anticipated (for example Lightning™ devices from Face) and there has been a drop in the energy needs of sensors and related electronics. Those developments will make EH solutions more economically attractive, which will accelerate growth later in the period as the markets recover. For example, the Building Automation market will grow only 6.5% in the next 12 months, but is forecast to surge at 61% in the final 12 months of the period. Looking at Mechanical/Piezoelectric EH, Darnell sees a different growth pattern. That segment will grow 45.6% in the next 12 months (this is currently the fastest-growing form of EH) and will achieve nearly 60% annual growth between 2016 and 2017.

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5: Perpetuum Develops Intelligent Energy Harvester Power Module in Partnership with Emerson

Perpetuum Ltd. in a collaborative effort with Emerson Rosemount announced the availability of an Intelligent Energy Harvester power module option for Emerson Rosemount 3051S Smart Wireless transmitters. The Intelligent Power Module offers a compact and technologically advanced power option which has the same form factor as the Emerson battery pack. It will enable the Emerson Rosemount 3051S to be powered by Vibration Energy Harvesters (also known as Vibration Energy Scavengers) thus eliminating the cost and logistics challenges associated with changing batteries.

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4: Cymbet Shipping EnerChips from New High-Volume Manufacturing Facility

Cymbet Corporation announced that it is now shipping EnerChip™ Smart Solid State Batteries from their second high volume fabrication facility built in partnership with X-FAB Texas Inc. Shipping EnerChips from this production facility significantly increases Cymbet's manufacturing capacity to supply the growing global demand for Cymbet's solid state batteries. This second EnerChip commercial production facility significantly increases Cymbet's manufacturing capacity. In anticipation of identified high volume customer requirements, additional floor space has been set aside for future expansion of the EnerChip production lines. With recent capital investments in Cymbet's Elk River, MN facility and this Lubbock production facility, Cymbet is now the only solid state battery manufacturer in the world to have two geographically diverse manufacturing facilities.

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3: Micropelt Raises Funds for Market Launch and Expansion<br
Micropelt has raised 6.5 Million Euro for the roll-out and global expansion of its thin-film thermoelectric energy harvesting technology. The fresh liquidity includes a 5 Million Euro investment by Ludgate Environmental Fund (LEF), a 1 Million Euro by the Fund of Mitsubishi UFJ Capital (MUCAP) and 0.5 Million Euro by the existing shareholders IBG / Goodvent, KfW, L-Bank and SHS. Micropelt's thermal micro energy harvesting technology, which uses waste heat to create electricity, will be rolled out to high-growth cleantech markets in Europe, Japan and globally. The microchip-sized device displaces batteries in automated equipment and has multiple domestic and industrial applications.

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2: ZigBee Alliance Debuts Battery-Free Option With New Green Power Feature

The ZigBee® Alliance announced the most eco-friendly way to power ZigBee products via its new Green Power feature, significantly expanding the potential for development of battery-less sensor and control networks. Products, including switches and dimmers, can now be easily powered with available energy harvesting sources rather than using a battery or AC mains power, creating a no-maintenance, environmentally friendly solution. A free public webinar on Green Power is scheduled for January 24.

Green Power is an optional feature for the ZigBee PRO feature set that is part of the enhanced ZigBee 2012 specification recently ratified and released to Alliance members. It significantly expands the capabilities of ZigBee PRO, further strengthening its leadership position as the global standard for wireless sensor and control networks and the Internet of Things. With ZigBee PRO Green Power products, consumers and businesses can add ZigBee devices to many more areas including locations where power is unavailable, not allowed for safety reasons or for historical preservation purposes. Product manufacturers can implement ZigBee into more products with confidence, knowing ZigBee is backed by a thriving, innovative and competitive ecosystem.

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1: GreenPeak Launches GP410 ZigBee PRO Green Power Chip

The day after ZigBee announced its new Green Power feature, GreenPeak Technologies announced its new GP410 chip offering the new PRO Green Power feature for low cost energy harvesting and ultra-long battery life ZigBee applications for the Smart Home. This strengthens the expectation that the new Green Power feature will significantly expand the potential for development of battery-less sensor and control networks. The GP410 IEEE 802.15.4 ZigBee PRO Green Power controller is a fully integrated system-on-chip solution for power harvesting end nodes for light switches, smart home devices, or for applications designed to run on a single battery for many years. The Green Power feature gives battery-free, energy-harvesting devices the ability to join any Green Power enabled ZigBee PRO 2012 network.

The GreenPeak GP410 features a radio transmitter, an integrated real-time Medium Access Control (MAC) processor, a security engine and a harvester interface. Ultra-low power consumption ensures that multiple (redundant) packets can be transmitted with a small harvester or tiny battery. The GP410 is designed to support both bursting and trickling energy harvesters and is therefore well suited to utilize the energy harvested from flipping a light switch as well as solar powered sensors.

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