2011 turned out to be a very interesting year for energy harvesting, full of scientific advances, technology breakthroughs and new product developments. IDTechEx predicts that the trend is set to continue, with further developments expected in 2012, along with expansion of commercialization efforts which will push energy harvesting adoption forward.
Lowering power consumption requirements...
It's not just energy harvesters that are getting better though. It's also power consumption requirements that are coming down and what better example than Intel's Claremont, showcased in September 2011, a concept processor that was demonstrated to run light workloads on solar power by dropping power consumption to under 10 milliwatts. "It may not become a commercial product, but the research could be integrated into future processors and other circuitry" Justin Rattner, CTO of Intel said at the time.
Intel's Claremont CPU. Source: Intel
...and optimizing harvester power generation.
At the other end of the spectrum, energy harvesters are drastically improving also. In only a few years, piezoelectric harvesters moved on from harvesting power of the order of μW to devices demonstrated in 2008 harvesting miliwatts. An even more recent example was showcased at Energy Harvesting 2011 in Boston last November when research work from the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in the USA was presented on the development of high energy efficiency piezoelectric energy harvesters.
Focusing on basic scientific principles that demonstrated how the "33" (longitudinal) excitation mode on piezoelectric harvesters is characterized by 3 times higher energy conversion efficiency than the "31" (transverse) excitation mode, the NIA researchers described the design and construction of a hybrid piezoelectric energy harvesting transducer that can harvest 4 times more energy than a tradition "31" harvester.
Diagram and picture of the harvesters developed at the NIA. Source: NIA
Further work at the NIA is focusing on optimizing these devices with numerical piezoelectric harvesters being developed that can harvest up to 1W of power with work on these devices expected to be published in 2012.
Innovate and commercialize
What makes the energy harvesting space feel more vibrant is the fact that it's not just the research and development part of the chain that's alive with innovation. Concepts and laboratory prototypes are not the only devices coming out of research teams. End user pull is increasing, leading to increased interest in the capabilities of energy harvesters and the bespoke performance they can provide in very specific operating environments. Taking advantage of that specific selling point of their technology, thermoelectrics company Micropelt demonstrated not just one, but two new products in the past year:
- a cooking sensor co-developed with MSX technology, in which Micropelt's thermal energy harvesting technology allows for a fully embedded and sealed cooking sensor for the life time of the gear (a single 6 mm2 Micropelt thermogenerator powers a fully self-sustaining MSX cooking sensor just from the normal process heat).
- Micropelt also developed qNODE working together with Schneider Electric, a wireless condition monitoring sensor and Micropelt's solution to increasing both operating safety and power availability in 24/7 production environments. The qNODE wireless temperature sensor generates its power from the resistive heat of the device it is monitoring. "Full production solutions", according to Burkhard Habbe, VP of business Development with Micropelt "will be based on standard or proprietary hardware and protocols with specific energy demands, but the qNODE shows exactly what's available."
The temperature and cooking sensors developed by Micropelt, source: Micropelt
"The bottom line is, stand by for further innovations in 2012, there's more to come and it's sure to inspire" Says Dr Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx.