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A Multi-Harvester architecture with hybrid storage

devices and smart capabilities for low power

Danilo Porcarelli

, Davide Brunelli

, Michele Magno

and Luca Benini

DEIS, University of Bologna, Viale Risorgimento 2, Bologna, Italy.

Email: {danilo.porcarelli, michele.magno, luca.benini}

DISI, University of Trento, via Sommarive 14, Povo, Trento, Italy.

AbstractThe increasing attention on energy autonomous
sensing and computing systems which can operate unattended
tens of years, have made energy harvesting and power conversion
techniques key technologies for the future. The goal is to
power systems nearly perpetually if the scavenger is exposed
to reasonable environmental energy conditions. However, the
system is still threatened to run out of energy, if a prolonged
lack of energy intake happens. The last frontiers of perpetual
operating systems is combining cutting edge technologies for
energy generation from the environment and long-term and green
energy supply using small factor fuel cells with few cm
. In this
paper we introduce an hybrid power architecture which improves
embedded systems power availability. We present a Smart Power
Unit (SPU) that is a power supply architecture which manages
both energy harvesting and novel fuel cells technologies. SPU
provide an efcient air-ow and solar energy harvesting stage
and a hydrogen micro fuel cell interface. Each harvester stores
energy in a local supercapacitor and, when full, a lithium-ion
battery is charged. Micro fuel cell acts as reservoir source for
recharging battery in low environmental power condition. The
core of the SPU is the microcontroller based power manager
that exploits MPPT, energy prevision, battery monitoring and
communications with user node.
Index TermsEnergy harvesting, fuel cells, hybrid power
systems, wireless sensor networks.
The research efforts in ambient intelligence and monitoring
systems have led the growth of application elds such as
biomedical equipments, surveillance, building monitoring and
long-term unattended datalogging, where high energy auton-
omy is a key feature. For example structural health monitoring
systems for critical infrastructures (i.e. tunnels, bridges or
dams) needs cutting edge wireless and distributed sensing
technology for long last monitoring. Therefore architectures
based on energy harvesters which convert and collect energy
from the environment combined with fuel cell hybrid systems
are very attractive solutions, because they guarantee a superior
level of reliability also in long absence of energy intake and
improve both power and energy density. Research on scaveng-
ing systems is mainly focused on tracking the maximum power
point with the minimum cost in terms of power consumption
and achieving a positive balance between the energy harvested
and energy consumed by the load. Moreover, applications
such as wireless sensor networks (WSNs) often require non-
invasive devices, so small size solutions for power supply is a
challenging constraint.
In this paper we present an energy harvester capable to
collect energy from multiple energy source concurrently. Two
harvesting subsystems are designed to efciently scavenge
energy from airow and sunlight. Each harvester rstly stores
energy in a dedicated local supercapacitor and then recharge
a lithium-ion battery (see Fig.1-2). Finally, to address also
long term shortage of energy intake and be prompt in urgent
events, a fuel cell section is provided as silent storage device
to power the system. To efciently extract the energy from two
environmental sources, exploiting concurrently three different
storage elements, a dedicated ultra low-power management
system has been designed. Furthermore, the power supply
unit can be congured using a smart digital interface and
making the harvester a Smart Power Unit (SPU). In fact, the
architecture operations are controlled by an ultra-low power
microcontroller to collect information about the energy level in
the storage elements and to measure the current energy intake
from environmental sources. With this information the SPU
can adapt the conversion parameters of each energy path and
can perform MPPT algorithms efciently. In addition all the
information can be delivered to other devices via I2C protocol.
To date, few architectural solutions for managing several
and very different energy sources have been proposed in the lit-
erature. One of the rst proposals were PUMA architecture [1]
which addressed mainly the problem of the multiple power
supply from software policy point of view and the authors
implemented a small matrix of ORing connectors. Then a
combination of two harvesters was proposed by Ambimax
harvester [2] which exploits wind turbine and solar harvesters,
nevertheless it was widely remarked the inefciency of the
system due to a limited accurate of the tracking due to the
photodiode [3].
Concerning energy harvesters using small and microscale
PV modules, [4] and [5] propose systems that attempt to
978-1-4673-1301-8/12/$31.00 2012 IEEE
International Symposium on Power Electronics,
Electrical Drives, Automation and Motion
Fig. 1. Smart Power Unit Architecture
Fig. 2. Smart Power Unit hardware setup
enable perpetual operation of low-power embedded systems.
In both solutions, the replenishment of the energy buffers is
performed by a direct connection between the PV panel and
the storage device, which forces the operating point to the
capacitor voltage. Both solutions do not perform any MPPT,
although the size of the panel and the collected power permit
some forms of power management.
On the second source, single energy harvesting solutions
using wind turbine with a size in the order of 1 dm
been presented in literature. The authors of [6] try instead to
extend the battery life in a wind speed sensing application
exploiting the same cup anemometer used to perform the
measurements, connecting to its shaft an axial-ux brushless
generator. Finally, the most mature design using micro wind
turbine has been proposed by [7]. They exploit a microcon-
troller to perform an accurate and complex maximum power
point tracking, which needs the continuous measurements of
both the current and the output voltage provided by the turbine.
An ultra low power PWM generator is used to adjust the
control signal of a boost converter. The authors achieve an
electrical efciency greater than 80% which is remarkable.
Finally fuel cell power supply for WSN is still in early
experiment. The only work which is worth to be referenced
is [8], which can be considered pioneers in Proton Exchange
Membrane (PEM) WSNs. However their method to power a
wireless sensor node and the knowledge of WSNs require-
ments for large scale networks is very limited.
Many kinds of energy sources are available to the designers
and the incoming power depends on the category of the
ambient source. Focusing on the energy transducers we can
distinguish between microwatt generators, such as piezoelec-
tric or thermal and milliwatt generators which include air-ow
and solar. So the topology of the transducers is fundamental
to determine the class of the harvester, its efciency and the
design methodology. For example in subsection A and B we
will see that the output power of solar cells varies widely
within the variations in lighting conditions. Conversely the
MPP of wind generators does not present notably variations
within changes in air-ow speed. Therefore, to achieve max-
imum power transfer we adopted two different strategies, i.e.
a maximum power point tracker for the solar harvester and a
impedance matching circuit for the air-ow.
Fig. 3. Equivalent circuit of a photovoltaic cell
Fig. 4. Solar conversion stage based on boost converter topology. The pilot
cell is used to provide open circuit voltage in F.O.C. algorithm
A. Solar Path
The electrical output power delivered by a solar panel
depends on light intensity level, cell temperature and load
resistance. We built a SPICE model based on the well-
known equivalent circuit presented in Fig.3. The characteristic
equation is given by the well-known (Eq. 1), where the current
generator emulates the short circuit current (I
), diode pro-
vides the typical knee of the current-voltage relation through
the reverse saturation current (I
) while the series resistor
) and shunt resistor (R
) emulate the intrinsic losses
depending on single PV cell series and parallel connections
= I


As shown in [9] the critical SPICE parameters to model
the solar panel are the reverse saturation current (I
) and the
ideality coefcient (n) of the diode and we can obtain them by
solving equations in terms of V
, I
, V
, I
, R
from real measured data. The series resistance is very
small and is set at 3 while the shunt resistance is very large
and set at 1 M while all of the other values are given by
The solar cell was tested under different light intensity
conditions and the results, plotted in Fig.5, are compared
with curves obtained from our model. In addition, the plot
highlights how the maximum power point varies with the
Fig. 5. Comparison between power curves obtained from SPICE model
(dashed curves) and measured output power of the main solar cell. The solid
curve also shows the MPP voltage curve.
light intensity. The shift from the MPP results in a signi-
cant variation in solar cell power output and it justies the
implementation of a MPPT routine to maximize the energy
transfer. The harvester architecture is showed in Fig.4 and
consists of a COTS boost regulator and a small pilot cell.
The regulator, driven by the power manager microcontroller,
converts power incoming from the main solar cell and adjusts
the output voltage to charge the local supercapacitor up to
5.5 V. In addition it forces the main cell to work near the
maximum power point by means of the tracking algorithm. In
our solution we adopt the Fractional Open Circuit algorithm
(FOC) which exploits the nearly linear proportionality between
the open circuit voltage, which is provided by the pilot cell,
and the voltage at the MPP according to the formula
= K
where K
(usually in the range 0.70 0.75) is 0.72. The
usage of a pilot cell avoids the power consumption due to the
light sensor such as in [2] and the temporary disconnection
of the main cell to measure open circuit voltage as well.
So, the power manager acquires both V
and V
estimates the new maximum power point accordingly to (Eq.
2) and nally adjusts the switching signal duty cycle (D) of
the converter with the relation
1 D
The design process of the boost regulator was carried out
to optimize the conversion efciency. The main causes of
power losses in switching regulators are due to the inductor
equivalent resistance, the diode in forward and reverse bias,
the mosfet which adds two contributions, i.e. the switching
losses and the conduction losses [10] [11]. All these losses
strictly depend on frequency and duty cycle of the mosfet gate
signal. Moreover they are affected by component parameters
such as inductor ESR, mosfet Q
and C
, diode reverse
saturation current I
and ideality coefcient n. The rst step
in the converter design is the selection of proper mosfet, diode
and a family of inductors with low ESR. The second step is
Fig. 6. Circuit representation of the two-phase wind generator followed by
a passive full wave rectier used in the SPICE model.
the solution of a system of equations which minimizes losses
and returns the optimal value of frequency, duty cycle and the
best inductor in the selected family.
B. Air-Flow Path
In [10] authors present a high efciency wind harvester with
a plastic four bladed horizontal axis wind turbine (HAWT)
with a diameter of 6.3 cm and length of 7.5 cm. The micro-
wind turbine core is a two-phase brushless generator which
delivers a sinusoidal signal whose amplitude and frequency
depends on airow speed. In our work we characterized a
similar micro-turbine followed by a passive full wave rectier
and next we dened a proper SPICE model based on the
generator-rectier circuit represented in Fig.6. The curves
plotted in Fig.8 represent the power delivered to the output of
the passive rectier. We notice that the maximum power point
is located in a impedance range of 500 700 ohms at all the
three air-ow speed conditions tested. Within that range, on
the other hand, the shift from the MPP results in negligible
variations of the output power. Remarking this, an impedance
matching circuit is more appropriate than a maximum power
point tracker.
The conversion stage is depicted in Fig.7 and consists of
a COTS buck-boost converter operated in Fixed Frequency-
Discontinuous Current Mode (FF-DCM). As demonstrated
in [12] and [11] the equivalent input resistance showed by
the buck-boost in FF-DCM is given by the equation
where L is the inductor value of the converter, T and t
are respectively the period and the duty cycle of the switching
signal. As demonstrated in [12], Eq. 4 gives three degrees of
freedom for parameters sizing to achieve impedance matching
that is the only constraint to assure. So it is reasonable to
choose the values for L,T and t
in order to minimize the con-
verter losses and achieve the maximum conversion efciency.
The sizing of the converter parameters and components was
performed using the same approach illustrated in the solar path
subsection. Finally the resulting switching signal is generated
by the power manager.
C. Fuel Cell Path
The Smart Power Unit provides a fuel cell section as a
reservoir energy source. When the energy storage elements
Fig. 7. Air-ow conversion stage based on buck-boost topology.
Fig. 8. Power delivered by the wind generator to the rectier output. Markers
shows power curves obtained from experimental measurement. Dashed line
represent power proles obtained from PSPICE simulations. Vertical line
shows the operating point chosen.
Fig. 9. Tipical I-V characteristic of a generic single PEM micro-fuel cell at
room temperature and normal air pressure
Fig. 10. Fuel cell equivalent model used in SPICE simulations.
are going to deeply discharge and the ambient energy intake is
scarce, then the power manager activates the fuel cell interface
in order to rapidly recharge the lithium ion battery avoiding the
system shutdown. A single-cell micro fuel cell is characterized
by low output voltage and high current in a relative small
average area. In [13] author describes how to create a general
SPICE model useful to simulate the behavior of many off-
the-shelf fuel cells by adjusting few parameters such as the
number of stacked cell, the membrane area and the operating
temperature. Ideally, the voltage across a single cell is about
1.2 V when no load is applied. Nevertheless, there are several
factors which cause voltage drops and the Fig.9 shows the
typical I-V characteristic of a generic fuel cell. There are three
main factors which determine the voltage losses, named polar-
izations. Each polarizations became dominant within changes
in current density so that we can discern three operating
regions on the I-V curve. For a thorough investigations of
losses, their causes and polarizations regions see [13].
For the sake of completeness we depict the model in Fig.10.
The activation polarization equation is very similar to the diode
equation, for this reason a diode D is used to simulate the
relative operating region. The ohmic region is well-emulated
by a resistor and for this purpose the diode parasitic resistance
value is used. The last region is emulated by implementing
a current limiting circuit through BJTs Q
and Q
and the
resistor R
. When the current, sensed by resistor R
, exceeds
a set threshold, Q
starts conducting and reduces the base
voltage of Q
. As a consequence the the emitter voltage of
, i.e. the fuel cell voltage V
, will decrease resulting in
the characteristic knee of the concentration region. Finally,
the inductor L and the capacitor C emulates the dynamic
behaviour of the fuel cell.
In this work we rst modeled a commercial single cell
(available from Horizon) which provides an open circuit
voltage of 1.23 V and a short circuit current of 2.5 A. In
a 3.61 cm
area the fuel cell features a power density of
282 mW/cm
. Then we simulated a stacked cell connected
directly to our architecture to achieve the maximum efciency.
In future works we will focus on the design of a more
sophisticated interface capable to works with a single cell.
The presented architecture of Smart Power Unit has been
assembled in hardware prototype for laboratory testing. The
whole PCB area is 5x6 cm and the setup is showed in
g1.b. After checking the smooth functionality of each sub-
circuit we carried out several tests in order to evaluate the
real performance of the designed MPPT circuit and thus
to verify the accuracy of the expectations provided by the
simulations. Moreover in order to nd out the efciency of
each single energy conversion subsystem we measure couples
voltage-current delivered by the energy sources and couple I-V
incoming to the battery. Measures are performed on a single
submodule at time without considering the interaction with
the others parts. Then the efciency is calculated following
the relations expressed in (5) and (6).
Fig. 11. Solar Energy Harvester efciency plot vs. solar cell output power
under different light intensity conditions.
P =

I(t)V (t)dt
where P
and P
are the total energy incoming to
the battery and delivered by the sources over a charging cycle
respectively. The efciency of the solar harvester results
about 86% in sunny days (over 30.000 LUX) and about 82%
in cloudy days (12.000 LUX) as depicted in Fig.11 where
we show the efciency as a function of the average power
intake from the transducer (i.e. output power from the cell).
We notice that the efciency is not strictly dependent on solar
cell output power thanks to the action of the maximum power
point tracking circuit. On the other hand the wind harvester
performs an efciency of about 86% at 16 Km/h airow
speed (Fig.12). Considering the generator output power of 8
mW the wind path can deliver an average power of about
7 mW. Finally we perform the characterization of the fuel
cell path emulating a stacked cell directly connected to the
battery. Although the efciency, plotted in Fig.13, is not as
high as the other modules we remark that the fuel cell is used
only when the system is running out of energy due to a very
long interval without environmental power. Moreover in future
work we will improve the efciency of this section using high
performance DC-DC converters. It is important to notice that
the experiments are performed considering only one source
at time. This affects the performance as a worst case scenario
(i.e. only one environmental source is available). In fact, during
normal operation, all the harvester submodules share the same
microcontroller, since it can manage concurrently multiple
sources. Therefore, when multiple harvesting is operating, the
global efciency increases because the overhead due to the
power consumption of the microcontroller is divided between
all the submodules.
In this paper we have presented a multi harvester architec-
ture with hybrid storage devices for low power systems and
congurable capabilities. The advanced architecture combines
Fig. 12. Wind Energy Harvester efciency plot vs. wind generator output
power under different airow speeds.
Fig. 13. Fuel cell section efciency performance over a complete charging
cycle. The input was an emulated stacked fuel cell with 100 mA maximum
output current.
high efciency energy harvesting and micro fuel cell tech-
nology. The solar harvesting subsystem consists of a COTS
boost converter and exploits a detailed model of the solar
cell to achieve an efciency of 86% . The Smart Power Unit
achieve also 86% of efciency from the micro-wind turbine.
In fact, it provides a xed impedance matching to achieve
maximum power transfer under different airow speed by
exploiting the properties of the buck-boost converter operated
in discontinuous mode. In case of scarceness of energy from
ambient, a hydrogen PEM micro fuel cell acts as reservoir
energy source avoiding user nodes crashes due the complete
depletion of the storage elements. The whole architecture is
managed by an ultra-low power microcontroller to recognize
the environmental conditions, to adjust MPPT parameter and
to monitor energy reservoirs levels.
The authors would like to thank the GENESI project (Green
sEnsor NEtworks for Structural monItoring) funded by the
Seventh Framework Programme of the European Community
under grant number 257916. In addition this research was par-
tially supported by the CHIRON project (Cyclic and person-
centric Health management: Integrated appRoach for hOme,
mobile and clinical eNvironments) which is part of the Sub-
Programme ASP2 funded by ARTEMIS Joint Undertaking
under grant number 100228, and the END project which
targets the transversal Sub-Programme SP7 funded by the
ENIAC Joint Undertaking under grant number 120214 and
from the national funding authority of Italy.
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