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Off Grid Energy Independence
Posted on June 4, 2009 by  & 

Energy Harvesting & Storage Europe, Cambridge, UK

Now in its second day, the IDTechEx Energy Harvesting and Storage conference in Cambridge, UK, has 150 attendees discovering the latest in harvesting and storage technologies and the applications that drive such innovation.
Here are some highlights from day one.
Dr Peter Harrop introduced the scope for energy harvesting as a sustainable energy resource and the range of complementary technologies for storage in cases where there's a necessity for saving energy for later use. In 2009 $611 million is the market for energy harvesters, with 67% of it being applications for consumer goods. By 2019 the market is predicted to have grown to over $4 billion, with 75% of it being consumer goods harvesters. The rest of the market will be industrial, military or healthcare applications.
Energy harvesting, in terms of number of organizations involved, is mainly a Europe/North America game but large budgets are appointed to energy harvesting from a few, but large, organizations in East Asia. Photovoltaics, electrodynamics, piezoelectric and thermoelectric technologies are the main sectors currently gathering momentum with applications such as wireless sensor networks, automotive, building and consumer electronics being targeted future markets. He said that 90% of potential applications of WSN cannot be achieved with batteries because it is impossible or unaffordable to recharge them in these situations.
Infinite Power Solutions (IPS) presented their innovative solid state thin film micro energy cell, in other words a thin film battery. 170 microns thick, 90% of it being the packaging, specifically designed for embedding in different applications. The technology is based on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory research work on LiCoO2- LiPON batteries with a 40mA current delivered from a square inch. Richard Percival of IPS showed demonstrations of the company's energy harvesters and storage devices, light weight, flexible and embeddable.
The Passive Power Management Unit (PPMU™) the company integrates with the micro cell leads to a completely autonomous, light-powered (but designed to accept energy from a wide variety of sources, e.g. magnetostrictive, thermoelectric, piezoelectric) device that can run without light for 30 hours. Being a prototype up until now, the Micro Power Module (MPM™) together with the THINERGY™ micro-cell will be announced next week as a product, a "perpetually powered" wireless sensor. Collaborators/users of the IPS technology include Siemens Nuremberg, MicroStrain, EPFL Lausanne and Virginia Tech.
Dr Samiul Haque of Nokia Research Centre focused on the research on enhanced energy and power capacity in mobile devices. The Nokia Morph research concept identified the main areas of interest that the company's future designs are looking to expand into, ensuring, among other features, flexibility, stretchability and ability to harvest energy from the environment (e.g. solar).
Nanostructured battery technology is one of the routes the company is exploring in order to achieve longer autonomous function for their mobile devices. Research is being focused on Carbon Nanotubes, with ZnO nanowires grown on them, for dye sensitized solar cells ensuring solar energy harvesting and transparency at the same time. Flexible electrodes are also being developed for energy storage with Nokia's research partners.
Rolls Royce's collaboration with Sheffield University is looking into wireless monitoring (of marine gas turbine engines or water-jet monitoring for, thrust monitoring, vibration testing etc) and also bringing electronics power down to lower levels in order to avoid interference, as well as energy harvesting. Sensing challenges for the electronics used in turbine engines include operating temperatures; ranging from -55°C all the way to over 250°C, these are levels of temperature in which most electronics do not survive.
For aerospace applications miniaturization and reduction of weight is always an important driver. Magnetic generators do not scale down as easily so the Sheffield University Technology centre is looking into small sized piezo-electric harvesters, using e.g. the gas turbine's vibration energy.
Florence Fusalba of CEA Liten (the French Atomic Energy Commission's innovation arm) focused on storage of harvested energy. Research in the Grenoble facility of Liten is focused on developing materials and prototypes for batteries with high energy and power which are safe and low cost. Application for these would range from electric/hybrid vehicles all the way to the new photovoltaics. Liten focused on Li technologies as they exhibit higher energy density, targeting a flexible thin film battery (often less than 400 microns thickness) that's fully printed (reduced cost). Work is also underway for integration of manufacturing of PV cells and thin film batteries, depositing one layer on top of the other.
ASTRI of Hong Kong presented their work on energy harvesting applications such as battery-less sensors for tire pressure monitoring systems, avoiding batteries that have limited lifetimes and would not be suitable for positioning a sensor inside the tyre. Potential markets, according to ASTRI, exist also in wearable electronics applications.
Enocean Alliance presented their work with sensors in the building environment, sensing humidity, temperature, the presence or not of someone in the room etc. The company's applications include products harvesting solar, mechanical and thermal energy, electrodynamics having replaced piezoelectrics in their light switches because of reliability, cost and temperature degradation/ life.
Paybacks from using EnOcean batteryless building sensors and controls are superb. Individual room temperature control leads to energy savings of up to 30%, when this equipment is installed in hotel buildings, hospitals, etc using occupancy sensors. EnOcean is now moving towards the private home market, not just industrial, public or office buildings. Studies are also on-going with partners like Boeing who are looking to incorporate this type of technology in aircraft.
The Facility is an architect and design firm trying to lead sustainable projects, reducing energy bills by up to two thirds. Facility:Innovate is the sister R&D company. Addressing energy costs, which have been hugely affected by increasingly higher costs of fossil fuels, can be pushed forward by enabling new, sustainable, technologies but also by affecting consumption of energy in houses, offices, etc. Energy harvesting devices and sensors that can lead to better energy efficiency and are produced by Innovation in collaboration with Hull University. The company has a patent to prototype electrodynamic floor vibration harvesting, but also building or transport vibration, in order to power electric devices.
Facility:Innovate are planning to install an energy harvesting staircase at a major London transport gateway dealing with 22,000 passersby per day. The energy generated by the footsteps of these passengers will be used to power 400m of EL tubing, or EL displays.
In the last session, Lauriane Thorner gave an overview of the MOBESENS European project for marine wireless sensor networks and work performed in the framework of the project from Imperial College London. According to Ms Thorner, one of the main future challenges is the resonant frequency tuning with the frequency of waves. A microturbine proves optimal.
Savi Technology presented on their needs for energy harvesting in RFID. One of the company's main focuses is to be able to predict where RFID is going to be in 3-5 years, making sure that it stays ahead with the solutions it can provide to customers - in the case of Savi, this means those in the Military and Heavy Logistics sectors. Being a company that provides integrated solutions, Savi is looking into end-to-end supply chain innovation. Battery dependence of active RFID tags is one of the main challenges that Savi faces and work on energy harvesting techniques is of great interest to the company. For that reason the company is identifying strategic partners who can supply solutions on their challenges.
Finally, Dennis Hohlfield from the Holst Centre/IMEC, presented on their use of micro-systems technology for their energy harvesters, their progress and challenges. Their wireless autonomous transducer solution (WATS) is working with a micropower module of 100µW powered by 4 sources primarily: vibration, light, RF or thermal. These are the main sources of energy that are being researched for applications such as predictive maintenance, body monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring, or building sensing. The main aim of their work is reduction in size and weight and of course reductions in cost. Micro-machining is the suggested way to achieve the necessary reductions in the manufacturing part of the chain.
Top Image: Cambridge City source Bugbog
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