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MIXED DESIGN MIXDES 2012, 19th International Conference "Mixed Design of Integrated Circuits and Systems", May 24-26, 2012

, Warsaw, Poland

Survey and Analysis of the Design Issues of a Low
Cost Micro Power DC-DC Step Up Converter for
Indoor Light Energy Harvesting Applications

Carlos Carvalho João P. Oliveira, Nuno Paulino
Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa (ISEL – ADEETC) UNINOVA/CTS
Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa (IPL) Departamento de Engenharia Electrotécnica, Faculdade de
Rua Conselheiro Emídio Navarro, nº1 Ciências e Tecnologia
1949-014 Lisboa – Portugal Universidade Nova de Lisboa
e-mail: Campus FCT/UNL, 2829-516 Caparica – Portugal

Abstract—This paper discusses the pertinent issues in purposes, the sensor system will not be responsible for
designing and developing a DC-DC converter for a low cost, contributing to chemical pollution caused by disposing them
micro power indoor light harvesting system using CMOS of, or their manufacturing. In economical terms, not using
technology. The different issues associated to this problem are batteries represents cost reduction in both devices and
studied and the relevant literature is analysed. The paper surveys replacement operation procedures.
and analyses the design options available for the PV cells, step-up
voltage converter circuit architecture, maximum power point The organization of this paper is as follows: Section II
tracking (MPPT) methods and energy storage devices. From this presents some considerations about the light energy source.
analysis a possible solution is discussed. Section III discusses energy conditioning systems to process
the energy provided by the harvester. Section IV gives an
Index Terms—CMOS, Electronics, Energy harvesting, insight into some devices in which it is possible to store the
Energy storage elements, MPPT techniques, Power management harvested energy. In Section V, the MPPT aspects are
circuits, PV cells addressed, so as to obtain the maximum efficiency out of PV
cells. In the end, Section VI presents the conclusions about this
I. INTRODUCTION survey, foreseeing general future applications.
The ability of circuits to obtain energy from the
surrounding environment for self powering is an interesting II. LIGHT ENERGY HARVESTING
feature that has gained increasing importance [1]. In opposition There are different possible energy sources in the
to traditional powering methods, like those that involve a cord environment that can be harvested to power electronic
connection to the power grid, or the use of batteries, obtaining applications [5]. This paper will only be focused on light
energy from ambient sources promises to take over the energy because, comparing all sources, this is the one that
powering paradigm for sensor networks [2], [3] and embedded shows the highest energy density by volume unity, followed by
systems [4]. Sensor networks that fully rely on grid powering mechanical and thermal energy respectively [5].
only have the opportunity to monitor building indoor
parameters, as they depend upon the cord connection. If one Light energy comes primarily from the Sun, but it also can
wants ubiquity and truly pervasive operation, relying on the be obtained indoor. At the maximum of its height and intensity,
power grid can be a limiting factor. One step forward, towards the Sun can provide as much as 1 kW/m2, but in indoor
unlimited sensor location, could be the use of batteries. environments, as the light gets attenuated, the Sun provides
Although improving the freedom of sensor distribution, one about one tenth of this energy density [6]. Relying on artificial
obstacle remains, related to the batteries themselves. As their illumination can result in only about 10 W/m2 [7]. In some
stored energy gets depleted, batteries need to be replaced. This situations it proves useful to have a history of the solar
can be a problem, if a large number of sensors are deployed, irradiation of the location where the harvester system is to be
some in places that are difficult to reach. Thus, the trivial placed [8], [9].
operation of battery replacement can result in costs a lot greater The key element for this kind of harvesting is the PV cell.
than the batteries themselves. The costs with staff and other This solid state device converts light energy directly to
logistic means may not pay off the utility of the sensor electrical energy without using moving parts. A PV cell is
network. To achieve indefinite operation, the sensors must be basically a photodiode and it can be manufactured in CMOS
supplied such that they obtain their power directly from the technology [10], [11]. However, it is not simple to integrate PV
surrounding environment. This procedure is known as energy cells with other circuits in the same die to obtain a complete
harvesting. By not using batteries for system main powering System-on-Chip (SoC) [12], [13]. The photons of the incident

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1 0. Cell current (mA) Cell power (μW) A. To tackle these limitations. at Light Maximum power Open circuit Optimal about 20% [6].263 V 818. capacitor based 1 cm2.830 mW 1. latch-up. it is necessary to use model.187 mW 1. if small devices are used.3 0. Figure 2. When a series connection of several PV cells is shows some parameters that were obtained by simulating the needed.303 V 803.8 mV power level. CELLS The efficiency of common PV cells is still relatively low. allowing for an arbitrary number of series connected PV TABLE I.210 V 806. inductor based voltage converters require a discrete inductor placed outside the 0 0 0. There are numerous examples of energy conditioning Solar cell output voltage (V) systems based on traditional and more elaborated architectures employing inductors. but involving the use of new layout architectures and 100% 3. but at the expense of a larger area [17]. as shown in Figure 1. 60% 2. or stepped down (buck operation).light can penetrate the die until they reach the substrate where it is mandatory to use two PV cells in series and a voltage they can cause a positive charge build up ultimately resulting in doubler circuit to step the voltage up. which typically require 1. The light intensity is swept from 10% to 100%. The area of each cell is 1 cm2. it is possible to use PV cell 40% 1.5 0. building the diodes on the same substrate may be series of two PV cells using the previously described electrical limiting [14]. in which costs are lower. such as in [8]. in [22] it is shown performance was obtained with a cell having an area of about that for very low power systems (< 1Watt). Power and current curves of the solar cell equivalent circuit model for maximum illumination (AM1). This inductors.9 mV 316. .6 0 system. These circuits can be inductor based or switched capacitor based.2 V after the step up operation. when compared to power point (MPP) of the PV cell is shown by the dots. Using amorphous silicon PV cells is an example of such a trade-off. it is necessary to use a circuit that adjusts the load seen by the PV cell. resulting in a larger area for the PV cell.2 mV less common materials [16]. If this same cell is to be used indoor.2 V. the level of usable B.49 μW 620. Either way. temperature and load value.4 0. Since the voltage of a PV cell depends on the light intensity. the goal is to perform a conversion Figure 1. Also. in order to have optimal power operation conditions.2 0. the PV cell voltage must be stepped up (boost operation). [18]. A comparative study between inductor and SC based conversion technologies is given in [21]. where the maximum have a greater energy and power density. [19]. ENERGY CONDITIONING SYSTEMS but rather to translate its electrical behavior. more expensive technologies. The data in TABLE I. [20].1 mV technologies with lower efficiencies and lower manufacturing 20% 367. As previously explained. Switched-Capacitor (SC) Based Converters power is substantially lower. it sets the output voltage of the PV cell. 98e . the voltage at which the It is possible to have a SC voltage converter circuit entirely power of a single cell is optimal (maximum) is insufficient to built using standard CMOS technology without using external power CMOS circuits. The regulator also plays the role of protecting the energy storage device from overload and when 2000 Solar cell power and current 10 dealing with a PV based system. III. This model does not intend to be an exact physical representation of the cell itself.1 mV systems. This study concludes The power and current curves of the cell for AM1 that converters based on SC have less losses and that capacitors conditions are depicted in Figure 2.550 mW 1. As such. Some solar cells can reach efficiencies as high intensity (Pmax) voltage (voc) voltage (vmax) as 50%. A light intensity of 20% of Based on an amorphous silicon PV cell that was built and the maximum is the threshold that allows for an output voltage experimentally characterized. to maximize the collected energy and to produce a stabilized output voltage. in terms of efficiency.132 V 774. PERFORMANCE OF A SERIES OF TWO AMORPHOUS SILICON PV cells to obtain a higher voltage value [15]. was obtained [17]. for the same 10% 93. Also.4 μW 954. resulting in more expensive 80% 2.5 mV To reduce production costs.4 mV 591. Therefore. Equivalent electrical circuit of the amorphous silicon solar cell as efficient as possible.775 mW. such as Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI).8 mV costs. The maximum power (Pmax) obtained is 1. an equivalent electrical model of about 1.037 mW 1. voltage of about 400 mV (vmax). Inductor Based Converters 1000 5 The inductance value required by most inductor based converters is outside the range of values that are possible to integrate in CMOS. at a converters lead the performance.

Capacitance values can be as high as 1500 F. as their When dealing with micro-power harvester systems. An the input voltage. the limited characteristics involve very specific charging strategies [9]. battery and supercapacitor [9]. Besides being electrical charge buffers. For a small system. Li+/Li-polymer (Lithium-ion / Lithium polymer). If the system has a Batteries are used when large energy density is required. work can be found in [28]–[31]. In general. [37]. as these are more expensive. means must be used to store that energy. [25] proposes some configurations Typical operating voltages for these kinds of battery that try to minimize the amount of charge that is lost. For convenience. for instance. until the capacitance value starts to show voltage elevation is also related to the number of PV cells some degradation [3]. but a set of several branches with different time constants [38]. with charge reusing. trying to minimize the number a better efficiency. bottom plate capacitance. that in conjunction with PVDF-Ionic electrolyte. both devices can be operate when light is available. the used in the same application. The number of between different topologies. connected in series at the input. There are some emerging technologies using materials like LiCoO2 or graphite. [35]. according to the number of capacitors example of a work concerning such an issue is presented in involved [23]. leading to an operational overall performance of the converter system. This type of device can even achieve power Figure 3. being very appealing to use in opposition to batteries. These converters can reach high efficiencies. Supercapacitors Supercapacitors exhibit characteristics that make them different from ordinary capacitors. to the amount of time that a battery can remain in operation. there are some well know. any of secondary energy buffers. being suitable for technique is used in [32]. available to perform this task [4]. The electrical model of a supercapacitor is not simply a highly valued capacitor. These act as a primary and Depending on the energy usage profile of the system. for the case of the double-layer capacitor. these devices can be used in accordance. [34]. The need for lifetime of ten years. when dealing with SC converters performance These devices can stand a higher number of studies. there are some applications that use both batteries and supercapacitors. Supercapacitors are cheap. One of the biggest problems is the bottom plate capacitance A. [23]. This aspect is related Regarding SC topologies. Each device requires special attention. As an example. In general.7 V for the first type [34]. B.components. performing an elevation of that the stored charge can hold for as long as possible.3V 98d . So. Switched capacitor doubler. Examples of systems that use batteries to store harvested energy can be found in [36]. However. so among which is the Series-Parallel. To overcome performance limitations due to the parasitic NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) or NiCad (Nickel Cadmium). performance. An IV. A voltage doubler whose base is according to the There are several common types of rechargeable batteries. If appropriate.2 V for the last two types [26] and [27] another technique is employed in order to and 3. in technologies can be approximately 1. Conventional Li-ion batteries minimize the bottom plate capacitance loss. aiming to extend the lifetime of most economical solution is to use a supercacitor. providing a constant voltage at the output of the regulator circuit. each must fit into the appropriate In the case of a low cost system that is only required to energy usage regime [9]. batteries serve as voltage stabilizers. Nonetheless. respectively. densities higher than that of conventional batteries. Batteries associated to every capacitor [18]. so that it can used at a later time. switching applications where this kind of regime is usual. It is important to note that each type of technology might require a different circuit to control its charging phase. ENERGY STORAGE DEVICES example of a discrete system that makes use of a supercapacitor to store harvested energy from a solar harvester Once the energy has been harvested and conditioned. Also. each other. or a short time after that. to optimize their utility and lifetime. same principle can be found in [24]. there are two storing devices.7 V to 4.2 V the circuit topology used in [26] is depicted in Figure 3. One interesting charge/discharge cycles than batteries. this topology shows a good [33]. have typical operating voltages that range from 2. just like technologies based on other types of materials and electrolytes [6]. substantial power (more than 1 Watt) and integration is not a but their lifetime is seriously affected by the number of requirement. consider a 1 F supercapacitor was charged to 1. available energy makes the converter efficiency a critical issue. have given promising results. of these cycles is an important objective. usually the inductor-based converters can achieve charging/discharging cycles. is used so as to maximize the cycles can be as high as a million. where a “gearbox”. some can be found in [39].

Fractional open circuit voltage relation between VOC and VMPP cell. at the cost of producing only an approximation of the There are some limiting factors when building a solar MPP of the PV cell. but in VOC) meets these requirements. in this case 0.85 0. temperature or irradiance changes. such as a low energy power system.35 0.55 0. but VMPP (V) 0. The Fractional Open Circuit Voltage (Fractional VOC) E = ½ × C × ΔVout2. For of the PV cell that requires less complex circuits and dissipates instance.5 0. in most cases. in order to maximize the received light characteristic of PV cells: there is a proportionality factor energy.75 0. and Figure 5.8 0. in less power. The energy supplied by this discharging capacitor is problem. This factor must be determined beforehand.35 dissipates a large power.and then allowed to power a circuit until its voltage decreases the maximum value around its vicinity.45 0. The circuitry needed to implement the V. used in 0. and the Ripple Correlation Control 0. exposed in the same way as the latter. [43]. which can be used to reach this goal.35 VMPP (V) thousands of Watts. [37].55 0.45 techniques can be found in [41].4 developed for large PV arrays that provide hundreds or 0. was simulated and showed the performance according to load. thus reducing the power 0.45 it requires a multiplication to compute the instantaneous power. as the converter system adapts itself automatically to the given PV cell. this is not a big to 1. 0. In Figure 4. This budget must be enough to in [48] and [49]. there to tolerate some inaccuracy in the determination of the MPP.4 0. in are a set of techniques known as Maximum Power Point exchange for using a simpler method for determining the MPP Tracking (MPPT).45 0. because it is a very simple and small systems this option is not valid because of the low power inexpensive (hardware wise) method. Both of these algorithms can also be implemented using analog circuits. Since the power value does not change significantly from under several conditions of temperature 983 .6 0. to transmit some bytes of information. The depicted in Figure 4. and low cost budgets. smaller than the main cell. This trade-off is acceptable for a micro energy powered micro sensor system.65 Effects from changing temperature techniques include algorithms like the Hill-Climbing. vectoring the PV 0. independently of light and temperature 0. due to size limitations.25 energy harvesting.2 These techniques are concerned with obtaining and tracking the MPP of the PV cell. using a pilot PV cell.6 [27].4 Since an analog multiplier is difficult to design and usually 0. it is possible to manipulate the PV cell orientation.5 0. 0. these techniques can be extended to systems with power around μW or mW. Most of the ones that are presented in this section were 0. The Fractional Open Circuit Voltage (Fractional order to maximize the light intensity on its surface [40]. Fractional open circuit voltage relation between VOC and VMPP general. The cell whose model is depicted impedance of both the cell and the converter circuit will vary.02 J.7 0. with the The Fractional VOC method explores an intrinsic correct orientation. illustrates the MPPT principle.3 0.55 (RCC). between their open circuit voltage and the voltage at which the MPP occurs. which is enough of the PV cell [48]. enable the controlling circuits to operate and to maintain the interaction between the energy processing system and the 1) Determination of the Fractional VOC Coefficient (k) for harvester at an optimum level [9].9 VOC (V) B. arrows in Figure 2. Its algorithm studying the solar cell behavior under several conditions of should try to reach the dot position.65 VOC (V) conditions. these MPPT techniques do not need to know the PV under several conditions of illumination cell characteristics beforehand. the RCC method is not suitable for 0. used in [44]–[47]. The open circuit voltage can be obtained time.25 A. This accurate estimation is often based on microcontroller computation requiring the use of an ADC. dealing with an impedance mismatch.2 0. In some cases. MAXIMUM POWER POINT TRACKING TECHNIQUES fractional VOC method is very simple and dissipates little power. Work based on this MPPT method can be found budget. True MPPT Techniques 0.3 0.6 0.3 micro power systems. [36]. as the equivalent illumination and temperature. in Figure 1. the PV Cell experimentally characterized In the case of a micro power step-up converter it is possible To maximize the energy obtained from the PV cell.4 0. represent the consequence of the controller action. This energy could be method requires to previously determining the characteristics used to power a 10 mW circuit for 2 seconds.5 Effects from changing illumination cell to the new MPP. by Figure 2. RCC is possibly the best MPPT method. 0.1V.5 needed to operate. such as for the case of indoor light 0. Quasi-MPPT Techniques This type of algorithms cannot reach the true MPP of a PV Figure 5. Examples of such 0. providing a broad perspective. In indoor applications it is possible to place the PV cell as close as possible to a light source.65 0. A substantially wide set of MPPT 0. [42].

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