Extreme Processing Thresholds: Energy Harvesting Resources

Monday, May 17th, 2010 by Robert Cravotta

[Editor's Note: This was originally posted at the Embedded Master

For the next few energy harvesting posts, I would like to explore the various approaches for extracting, storing, and using energy from the environment. However, this could take several posts to cover all of this, so I am focusing this post on pointing out various energy harvesting resources for those of you with a need for more information sooner. Let me clarify, by energy harvesting applications, I mean building systems that can extract enough trace amounts of energy from the environment to power their own operation potentially indefinitely. This is in contrast to those efforts to harvesting energy from non-fossil fuel sources as an alternative energy source.

The Energy Harvest Forum is a general site that lists a fair number of companies that claim to be involved in energy harvesting for WSN (Wireless Sensor Network) and control systems. One concern I have about the company links is that they all go to the home page for each company and it is not always obvious how to get to the energy harvesting material at each company’s site. The site lists companies offering piezo, thermal, and photo electric products.

Texas Instruments has an energy harvesting resource at their site that includes information about their parts and development kits that support energy harvesting. The site also includes application notes, whitepapers, videos, and links to articles. Much of the material is company specific, but there is some general information there. At this point, it is one of the few such collections of energy harvesting material available in one place.

In researching this topic, I heard the name of a few companies mentioned by more than one source.  I will try to get more information about each of them, as well as other companies, in follow-up posts. I’m mentioning these companies here because they appear to be active based on mentions from multiple companies that either have or will have energy harvesting resources available later this year. Cymbet’s EnerChip devices provide power storage solutions for applications such as power bridging, permanent power, and wireless sensors. Infinite power Solutions is involved with solid-state, rechargeable thin-film micro-energy storage devices. Powercast is different from the previous two companies in that they focus on delivering micro-power wirelessly via RF energy harvesting.

Micro-energy harvesting seems to be on the cusp of delivering a different way to think about energy for embedded designs. The opportunities for harvesting the trace amounts of energy that is resident in the environment are becoming more compelling as the cost, complexity, and reliability for the energy harvesting approaches continue to evolve toward parity with batteries.


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