GATHERING FREE POWER FROM THE AIR AROUND YOU

Again – From Low Power to

No Power through

Energy Harvesting:

Powering Up

the Battery-Free World

Oct 31, 2010 23:58 ideyoshi Kume

Stepping Up from only 20mV

Co2 to energy

The impact of higher power supply circuit performance is dramatic, because just how efficiently the power supply can handle the minute trickles of power gained through energy harvesting-how little loss there is-is key. Recently, even ultra-low voltages can be harvested efficiently.

Linear Technology Corp. of the US began volume production of the LTC3108 DC-DC converter, offering relatively high step-up efficiency from even an extremely low 20mV, in December 2009. With a thermocouple, the firm says, it can produce electricity from a temperature difference of only 1°C. An engineer involved in power supply circuit development for years is amazed: “They can use voltages a whole order lower than we can as energy sources!” Note 2).

Note 2) The LTC3108 uses an internal n-channel metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor (MOSFET) with external step-up transformer and capacitor, forming a resonant step-up oscillator. A transformer with a 100:1 ratio would boost 20mV to 2.0V.

According to Tony Armstrong, Director of Product Marketing, Power Products at Linear, the firm began development of the LTC3108 in about the summer of 2007, predicting growth in the energy harvesting field.

Ultra-Low Dissipation Wireless ICs

Lower dissipation by wireless transceiver ICs has also had an enormous effect, along with power supply circuits. Standby dissipation, previously about 1?A, has now been slashed to about 0.2?A thanks to smaller geometry and innovations in communications control.

One company that stands out in the energy harvesting field when it comes to wireless transceiver ICs is venture firm EnOcean GmbH of Germany. The amount of power consumed by the firm’s “EnOcean” standard for wireless communication between equipment is one digit smaller thanother methods.

Fig. 4 EnOcean Emphasizes Low Power Consumption and Ease of Use
The single design means a signal is sent only three times in 30ms (a), helping reduce standby current to only 0.2?A (b). The wavebands used vary by nation and region. Ease of use has been enhanced by modularization (c).

Power consumption was slashed by eliminating unnecessary functionality. Frank Schmidt, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of the firm, stresses the key is simple control. Wireless ICs used in switch applications, for example, send only three 1ms signals every 30ms for on/off control (Fig. 4) Note 3).

Note 3) The latest specification further improved convenience by supporting feedback from the receiver to the transmitter.

There are also efforts under way to apply low-power wireless LAN to energy harvesting wireless communication. GainSpan Corp. of the US, with founders including engineers from Intel Corp. of the US, has developed a wireless LAN IC with a standby current consumption of no more than 1?A: between 10% and 1% of standard designs Note 4). This is about the same level as ZigBee. It offers an advantage in that existing wireless LAN access points can be utilized. Standardization has also started on ZigBee Green Power, however, a version of ZigBee tweaked for energy harvesting applications. The standard is expected to be finished by the end of 2010.

Note 4) Lower dissipation was achieved in part by frequent clock gating and use of sleep mode.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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