CEA-Leti's Energy-Harvesting ICs Geared Toward Battery-Free Sensor Systems

By Tiera Oliver

Associate Editor

Embedded Computing Design

February 24, 2020


Two Presentations at ISSCC 2020 Describe Results that Could Lead to ?Significant Commercialization of Vibration-Powered Systems.'

CEA-Leti is investigating harvesting systems ranging from micrometer-and-millimeter scale to centimeter scale or larger for ambient-energy sources that can power sensor nodes in remote environments or difficult-to-reach settings where batteries are impractical.

The institute presented two papers on energy-harvesting systems for both of those size scales at ISSCC 2020:

  • “Self-Tunable Phase-Shifted SECE Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting IC with a 30nW MPPT achieving 446% Energy-Bandwidth Improvement and 94% Efficiency”, and
  • “Electromagnetic Mechanical Energy Harvester IC with no off-chip Component and One switching period MPPT achieving up to 95.9% end-to-end Efficiency and 460% Energy Extraction Gain”.

The first paper presents a system in which vibration energy is converted into electrical energy by means of a piezoelectric material fixed on a beam. The second project explored converting vibration energy into electrical energy by means of an oscillating magnet in a coil. The harvesters in both approaches required specific IC interfaces to enhance the stored, harvested energy.

While the first paper focuses on small-scale energy harvesting for applications where the system must be as small as possible, i.e. inside the body, the second paper focuses on larger scale devices, i.e. for home automation (domotics) and aeronautic applications.

Self-Tunable Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting IC

The team in the piezoelectric energy-harvesting IC study, which included researchers from the SYMME lab at Université Savoie Mont Blanc, designed an adaptive electrical interface that both collects the energy from the harvester and dynamically adjusts the harvester’s resonant frequency. This results in a 446 percent larger harvesting bandwidth. The harvesting and tuning are self-powered, and their total consumption (around 1µW) is at least two orders of magnitude lower than the harvested energy from vibrations that are available in the environment (100µW to 1mW).

“The end-to-end efficiency of the circuit is as high as 94 percent, which is among the highest efficiency compared to other harvesting circuits that can be found in the literature,” said Adrien Morel, lead author of the first paper.

Electromagnetic Energy Harvester IC

The second paper describes fabrication of a harvester IC that reaches the published highest end-to-end efficiency, up to 95.9 percent, and dramatically reduces the cost of the bill of materials. The IC achieves 210 percent and 460 percent energy-extraction gains, respectively, compared to the full-bridge rectifier in periodic vibrations and shock conditions.

“The unprecedented 95.9 percent end-to-end efficiency is the multiplicative factor between the extraction efficiency and the conversion efficiency,” said Anthony Quelen, lead author of the second paper. “The extraction efficiency is maximized with the real- time optimal input impedance generator. The conversion efficiency is maximized with the new boost architecture using the harvester coil.”

The 460 percent energy-extraction gain contrasts the harvested energy with the new IC interface and the harvested energy with a standard full-bridge rectifier interface under shock-mode excitation.

These results point the way toward the commercialization of vibration-powered systems. These harvesters could complement or replace batteries, making possible the widespread deployment of sensor nodes for monitoring and getting data from forests, deserts, bridges, and buildings. They also could lead to the development of autonomous (battery-less) sensors for use in harsh environments, such as high temperatures, and in places where access is difficult, such as the human body or airplane engines. According to the company, low-cost ICs that maximize end-to-end efficiency are key to driving more users to deploy Internet of Things networks with multiple sensing devices.   

For more information, visit: http://www.leti-cea.com/cea-tech/leti/english

Tiera Oliver, Associate Editor for Embedded Computing Design, is responsible for web content edits, product news, and constructing stories. She also assists with newsletter updates as well as contributing and editing content for ECD podcasts and the ECD YouTube channel. Before working at ECD, Tiera graduated from Northern Arizona University where she received her B.S. in journalism and political science and worked as a news reporter for the university’s student led newspaper, The Lumberjack.

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