When MSX Technology and Micropelt GmbH won the IDTechEx Best Application of Energy Harvesting award at the Energy Harvesting and WSN USA 2011 conference held in Boston, USA, one judge commented: "This innovative approach results in energy efficient cooking by using a fully embedded (dishwasher safe), self-powered and wireless sensor to automate the cooking process. A cool combination of an advance in a "domestic" technology with energy conservation." It was also described as a "Great application with several benefits."
IDTechEx technology analyst Dr Harry Zervos recently interviewed Mr Burkhard Habbe, VP of Business Development at Micropelt, and Albin Smrke, scientific advisor with MSX Technology and inventor of a cooking sensor, to find out more about the development of this multi-sensory cooking technology.
The technology has a proven energy reduction for cooking of up to 50%, confirmed by the independent Swiss Federal Laboratories (EMPA) and VDE, the German Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies. Micropelt's thermal energy harvesting technology allows for a fully embedded and sealed sensor for the life time of the cooking vessel. A single 6mm² Micropelt thermogenerator powers a fully self-sustaining MSX cooking sensor just from the normal process heat.
Innovation in conventional markets
When asked how innovation is dealt with in markets that are very conventional and are considered almost static, Burkhard Habbe said: "Competitive pricing is the most important door opener to the consumer market." As an illustration, Burkhard mentioned a discussion with a potential customer for the device who said: "If you can sell me a power source for €3, I will order 100,000 straight away." Burkhard continued, "It's not easy to get to that price point, but there's a way to achieve it within a couple of years, based on production and efficiency improvements and power requirements in electronics that are constantly going down."
High volumes for the devices are also achievable as Micropelt is already producing several hundreds of thousands of devices in 2012.
The sensor and harvester are not the only technology developments required, Albin Smrke pointed out that "...the link to the cooking vessel and the cooking vessel itself need to be optimized." The technology also needs to be green, dishwasher proof (no battery), fully automated and minimally intrusive.
"There's never a big revolution in cooking, cooking is art," Albin said. "What this innovation does is optimize the process and energy consumption, without having to disrupt the cooking process or the vessel itself. People want to stick to traditional, old fashioned ways of cooking."
End user pull
The interest is already there from big potential adopters of the technology. For instance, Tefal is producing 200,000 units daily, and have stated their intention that 1% of these will incorporate the sensor on the lid. Of course, this doesn't necessarily represent something concrete, not until actual orders come through. On the other hand, expression of interest from one of the leading brands in the sector definitely gives a good indication of the value of the technology and the possibilities that are opening up through its integration.
What is important from an adopters' point of view is connecting the hob and the pan. Bringing both hob companies and pan companies up to speed with the technology will be one of the most critical factors to successful commercialization. On this point, Albin said: "When induction hobs were introduced, hob makers gave induction ready pans to buyers and in a couple of years, everyone was ready for them. The same could potentially be done with these electronics. Adding a sensor on existing pans is also doable as they could be self-adhesive."
Multisensory technology characteristics
Albin also points out what multi sensor technology means. Temperature and sound sensors as part of the hob are utilized to map the thermal and sound field on the lid and at the bottom of the pan.
"The technology has taken more than 10 years of development. On the electronics side, the energy consumption and cost of these sensors initially were prohibitive, 25 German Marks at the time and heavy. Wireless transmission and low power electronics were a saving a grace." MSX's collaboration with Micropelt started about five years ago.
Burkhard Habbe added: "You put it in, and you cannot see it. It is 1mm x 2mm, and in ten seconds enough energy has been harvested for half an hour of cooking. 30 degrees temperature difference is adequate."
Relating to cycling of use, Albin says it is not a problem. Storage time could potentially be an issue though and so a capacitor is there to make sure the sensor stays alive even after three months of storage, a stringent customer requirement.
Any potential challenges would be related to packaging, but Micropelt has a lot of experience in this area. The thermal gradient in the vessel is almost what you would consider 'heavenly' conditions for thermoelectric power generation. "Hence, the convergence with Micropelt's technology was obvious from the start," said Habbe.
Albin has a lot of meetings with companies talking about great numbers. Regarding energy classification, the evaluation finished in September 2011 and is expected to become publicly known by mid-2012, announcing savings of at least 30%. "Such an announcement could lead to a large number of orders. Reasonable growth rates of a few hundred thousands of units can easily be supported," concluded Habbe.
Top image source: The Web Outside