Tiny Mechanical Energy Harvester in Production Now, Will Replace Batteries
A new kind of extremely useful micro-device, a so called “piezo-MEMS” -- standing for piezoelectric microelectromechanical system -- is able to convert ambient vibrations directly into electrical energy and will come to market this year.
The low-cost piezo-MEMS energy harvester chips are currently fabricated at the X-Fab MEMS Foundry in Itzehoe, Germany, so that the “BOLT micro-power module” (MPM) can ramp-up to commercial-scale production by summer 2013. It was researched and developed by the company MicroGen at the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility.
Uses could include industrial, building and commercial wireless sensors, machinery monitoring, lighting control, wireless price tags at stores, and smart utility metering, and eliminating the 164 million depleted coin-cell batteries in the U.S. and Europe each year that would otherwise need to be recycled.
Batteries – like AA or AAA or lithium batteries – are often cost prohibitive for industrial or commercial entities using wireless sensors in distributed “smart” networks. “Sensors observe equipment status and condition, process automation control points, energy usage and many, many other critical parameters,” says Robert Andosca, president and CEO of MicroGen Systems Inc. of Ithaca, N.Y., and Rochester, N.Y.
“There’s not only the cost of the batteries, but there is labor cost in continually replacing them. With these energy-harvesting devices, it will save prohibitive battery replacement and associated labor costs,” says Andosca.
They could also be used in transportation systems, civil infrastructure monitoring, and asset tracking, and help report outside temperatures at vineyards.
MicroGen’s energy harvester had humble beginnings at the National Science Foundation-funded CNF, as MicroGen and CNF staff developed prototypes. “If we are to realize the economic impact of nanotechnology, it is vitally important that the prototyping activities in the lab get translated into products that form commercial ventures,” says Don Tennant, director of operations at CNF.