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Energy Harvesting and Low Power Electronics

Energy Harvesting and Low Power Electronics

Quote: KT110780-W

The Challenge

Whilst the electronics industry is battling with the demand to extend the battery life in the presence of increased functionality through continuing innovation in low power hardware and software, there is a clear opportunity to develop complementary/alternative energy sources for self-powered electronics needed in emerging application areas including mobile communications, consumer devices, digital health, autonomous environmental and industrial monitoring.

Energy harvesting is the process by which ambient energy is captured and converted into electricity for small autonomous devices, such as satellites, laptops and nodes in sensor networks making them self-sufficient. Each device must contain an accurate power sensor to determine how much power is stored in the system and manage the charging and discharging processes accordingly. A process known as adaptive power management.

Conventional power sensors or analogue to digital converters (ADCs) work under the assumption of a constant and stable power supply. This assumption is not applicable to energy harvesting systems because power supply drops while the system power dissipates, and rises when new energy is harvested. Hence, what is needed is an ADC that functions correctly in the absence of a stable power supply.

The Solution

Scientists at Newcastle University have developed a solution to this problem by using a tiny proportion of the charge being sampled to power the ADC. This technology provides run-time power sensing that functions correctly in the absence of a stable power supply.

This invention, which provides a fundamental circuit design that can be implemented in all low power electronics requiring adaptive power management, is a paradigm shift in the approach to power sensing.

The Opportunity

Energy Harvesting technologies are part of a rapidly expanding market. An estimated 1.6 million energy harvesters were used in wireless sensors in 2011, resulting in $13.75 million being spent on those harvesters. The market is expected to grow to over $4.4 billion by 2020.

Newcastle University are currently developing a prototype device incorporating this technology and are seeking companies interested in discussing licencing opportunities or collaborating on future development.

Intellectual Property Status

This technology is patent protected.

Title: Apparatus and method for voltage sensing
UK patent application no: PCT/GB2011/050390
Filing Date: 28 February 2011
Applicant: University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Sheena Shields, Science, Agriculture & Engineering Enterprise Team, Research and Enterprise Services, Devonshire Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK