Energy harvesting, wireless sensor networks & opportunities for industrial applications
Sebastien Boisseau and Ghislain Despesse, CEA-Leti 2/27/2012 8:45 AM EST
What can we do with less than a 100µW-source? With the will to increase the number of sensors around us and to respect several economic and environmental constraints, researchers and R&D engineers are looking for new green and unlimited energy sources that will allow to remove batteries or wires and to develop autonomous wireless sensor networks with theoretical unlimited lifetimes. These new sources are based on ambient energy. Unfortunately, ambient energy is not very powerful -100µW/cm³ is a good order of magnitude for energy harvesters- but is enough for many applications and especially in industry. From thousand to million sensors in our environment “More and more sensors”, this is a general will to increase the amount of information collected from equipment, buildings, environments… allowing us to interact with our surroundings, to predict failures or to better understand some phenomena. Many fields are concerned: automotive, aerospace, industry, habitat. Some examples of sensors and fields are presented in figure 1.

Figure 1: Million sensors in our surroundings We have chosen to focus our study on industry, which is one of the most economically attractive areas. In order to reduce machine downtimes, costs of maintenance and costs of broken parts replacements, more and more industrialists are interested in developing (wireless) sensor networks able to collect many information (pressures, vibrations, temperatures) from their equipment to implement predictive maintenance. Unfortunately, it is difficult to deploy many more sensors with today’s solutions, for two main reasons: 1- Cables are becoming difficult and costly to be drawn (inside walls, on rotating parts) 2- Battery replacements in wireless sensor networks are a burden that may cost a lot in large factories (hundred or thousand sensor nodes).

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As a consequence. Microchip. These sources are characterized by different power densities (figure 2). Autonomous wireless sensor networks (aWSN) & needs A simple vision of aWSN nodes is presented in figure 3a. Ambient sources Four main ambient energy sources are present in our environment: mechanical energy (vibrations. Energy Harvesting (EH) from outside sun appears to be the most powerful (even if values given in figure 2 have to be weighted by conversion efficiencies that rarely exceed 20 percent in photovoltaic cells). (iii) “radio” box and (iv) “power” box. Figure 2: Ambient sources power densities before conversion Figure 2 also shows that 10-100µW is a good order of magnitude for 1cm² or 1cm³-EH output power. Unfortunately. deformations). solar energy harvesting is not possible in dark areas (near machines. An example of a typical sensor node’s power consumption is given in figure As a consequence.1-5µW: standby mode’s power consumption . the source of ambient energy must be chosen according to the local environment of the WSN node: no universal ambient energy source exists. Obviously. biochemistry). Actually. in warehouses). One way to proceed consists in using a green and theoretically unlimited source: ambient energy. engineers and researchers are looking for developing autonomous wireless sensor networks able to work for years without any human intervention. radiant energy (sun. aWSN nodes can be represented as 4 boxes devices: (i) “sensors” box. 10-100µW is not a great amount of power.500µW-1mW: active mode’s power consumption . yet it can be enough for many applications and especially Wireless Sensor Networks. significant progress has already been accomplished by microcontrollers & RF chips manufacturers (Atmel. it is necessary to adopt a “global system vision” aimed at reducing power consumption of sensors. RF) and chemical energy (chemistry. it is not possible to harvest energy from thermal gradients when there is no thermal gradient or to harvest vibrations when there is no vibration. infrared.http://eetimes. (ii) “microcontroller (µC)” box. To power this device by EH. 3 typical values can be highlighted: . industrialists. Similarly. Actually. Texas Instruments…) both for working and standby modes.50mW: transmission power peak 2 sur 6 21/09/2012 12:03 . µC and radio. thermal energy (temperature gradients or variations).

this diagram gives a “minimum” EH output power more or less necessary to build viable EH-powered sensor nodes.g. W and f can be illustrated by figure 5. wood…) and ambient energy sources (e. Energy. EH-powered aWSN can be developed by adopting an intermittent operation mode as presented in figure Figure 3: (a) aWSN node and (b) sensor node’s power consumption First of all. Fortunately. even the most consumptive one. harvesting 100µW during 1 year corresponds to a total amount of energy equivalent to 1g of 3 sur 6 21/09/2012 12:03 . Secondly. Power. it is possible to power any application thanks to EH. For example. 100µW green line). lithium. To illustrate possibilities given by EH for aWSN. power sources can also be represented in this diagram. The main problem is to adapt the measurement cycle frequency to the continuously harvested power.http://eetimes. This simple link between P. Figure 4: WSN measurement cycle Therefore. Measurement cycle frequency – Is an EH-based source viable? Sensor node’s average power consumption (P) corresponds to the total amount of energy needed for one measurement cycle (W) multiplied by the frequency of this action (f). By using log-log scales. battery) and used to perform a measurement cycle as soon as enough energy is stored in the buffer (b & c). this diagram highlights the fact that today’s EH devices cannot supply aWSN in a continuous active mode (500µW-1mW power consumption vs 10-100µW for EH output power). System then goes back to standby mode (d) waiting for a new measurement cycle. thanks to an ultra-low power consumption standby mode. This limit can be fixed to 1-5µW that corresponds to a good order of magnitude for microprocessor and RF chips standby modes. energy and measurement cycle frequency. Obviously. It allows to compare limited sources (batteries. Energy is stored in a buffer (a) (capacitor. average power consumption is represented by straight lines of slope -1. one needs only to look at the link between power. with energy in abscissa and measurement frequency in ordinate.

many research centers also work on EH (University Of Southampton (UK).Making a complete measure: measure+conversion+emission consumes 250-500µJ.http://eetimes. This is in agreement with many industrial needs and especially with predictive maintenance topics.Sending 100bits of data consumes 5µJ 2. except for PV cells. the number of industrial actors increases. The technological offer is being improved and lithium. with 100µW harvested continuously. Energy and Frequency – PWf diagrams EH Technological offers and actors According to a study market performed by CEA-Leti. it is possible to perform a complete measure every 1-10 seconds (0. For the same reasons. Holst Centre (D). it appears that: 1. Fraunhofer(D)…) Figure 6: Industrial actors on EH (except photovoltaics) Unfortunately. Berkeley (US). Nevertheless. Peking University (CN). by taking this approach of looking at energy consumption for one measure instead of an average power consumption. Moreover. MIT (USA). its advantages 4 sur 6 21/09/2012 12:03 . EH is still perceived by industrialists as a non-mature technology that requires much improvements before being really interesting and widely used. INSA (FR).1-1Hz). Figure 6 presents several industrial actors working on energy harvesting (except photovoltaics). Figure 5: Power. LETI (FR). Obviously.Measuring acceleration consumes 50µJ 3. Therefore. EH-powered aWSN is a field of growing interest.

For thermoelectricity. We also present EH main limits and propose some improvements. but it cannot work in all situations and especially for industry applications.http://eetimes. i. We compare these results with standard solutions.e. photovoltaic cells are probably the most advanced and robust technology today. Table 1: Industrialists’ visions of EH Needs from industry – Key success factors Actually. improvements mainly concern materials to increase EH output power even on small thermal gradients. To conclude. improvements of present technologies – that are currently under investigation – should enable to meet the needs expressed by industrialists. energy harvesting –except for PV cells– is still an emerging technology that has not yet been adopted by industry. both of them should be improved and prove their worth before it is fully adopted by industry. 5 sur 6 21/09/2012 12:03 . focusing on vibration energy harvesting (VEH) and compared to wires or batteries are already well perceived. thermoelectricity and vibration energy harvesting can be suitable for these environments. Table 1 presents some industrialists’ visions of EH (CEA-Leti study market). They are summarized in table 2. For vibration energy harvesters. Obviously. only time will bring more information. Table 2: Industrialists’ needs and EH limits Conclusion: Still an emerging technology but with great opportunities Even though many developments have taken place over the past 10 years. energy harvesting can be – and will be – a viable solution to develop autonomous wireless sensor networks. Nevertheless. this market survey has raised the main reasons why EH is still not in agreement with industrialists’ needs. As for robustness and impacts of aging. Nevertheless. batteries and wires. Its adequacy with sustainable development is a great opportunity. the most important focal area of research is probably the increase of the working frequency bandwidth that is still a technological bottleneck preventing this technology from being a viable and versatile supply source.

The authors would like to thank F. Berger. CEA-Leti is part of CEA. Visit CEA-Leti Follow us on SmartEnergy Designline 6 sur 6 21/09/2012 12:03 . S. Ahmed Seddik. a French institute focused on micro. A. Chaillout.and nanotechnologies and their applications.J. P. Dauvé for their contribution to this article. Pinaud and S. Riché and S. Gasnier.http://eetimes. Joly for the market About the authors Sebastien Boisseau and Ghislain Despesse are researchers at CEA-Leti. Duret. French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission. J. and their VEH coworkers.D.B. B. P.

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