The market for wireless sensor network is growing rapidly, but it’s still somewhat restricted by the existing batteries with short lifetimes. Introducing a virtually infinite alternate green source of power to the conventional energy sources will considerably expand WSN and other similar applications in near future, but it may still take a few years time. MEMS vibrational micro power generation is one method that has seen a drastic increase in power harvesting usage over last couple of years, and this methodology certainly looks quite promising to say the least.
Many new-fangled devices are tapping the vibrations in their surroundings to produce useful energy. Several wireless and sensor technologies present very less power requirements so that just a few microwatts or power of even lesser magnitude are adequate to measure and transmit small quantities of information to a dashboard or receiver close by.
VEH (Vibrational energy harvesting) with MEMS is tremendously helping in achieving the eventual objective of battery-free, wireless, autonomous sensing, testing, and reporting.
Of late, powering wireless networks and sensors with such vibrational power sources has being considered for industrial applications and is undergoing field testing in several applications wherein thermal or solar energy sources can’t be utilized. Few of the industries where it finds use include structural monitoring, industrial process control, roads & bridges, appliances, human power, environmental, machine monitoring, aerospace, automotive, and home automation.
Several varying MEMS VEH processes and device designs have illustrated that adequate power production is possible easily, in order to charge a battery or beam data wirelessly by mainly using piezoelectric or electrostatic techniques; electromagnetic methods are also used rarely. Usually a moving spring is utilized to function and return maximum power at particular frequencies.
MEMS technologies and devices have assembled and changed such vibrations into useful electrical energy, provided that these vibrations occur in a narrow frequency range. But a majority of the devices operate at different speeds, and feature distinct vibration profiles.
The challenges faced by harvesters of the vibrational energy mainly revolve around finding the ideal device that can be utilized for a particular frequency and deriving adequate power from those frequencies for sufficiently long intervals of time. The only goal of vibration harvesting is certainly finding a broad-frequency or a device whose power harvesting capability does not fall steeply near a resonant frequency, so as to keep capturing power with the change in vibrations. However, it turns out to be a costly affair to make use of an array of harvesters with each of them being tuned to different frequencies.
The designs of MEMS VEH are improving; a recent report discussed the strategies that were publicly accessible in order to extend the vibrational frequency range of micro-range VEH, including but not limited to –
- Tuning the system periodically with electrical or mechanical techniques, consuming power continuously or intermittently
- Bandwidth widening by using a mechanical stopper, a generator array, bi-stable structure or nonlinear springs.
Piezoelectric tuning along with an active powered feedback loop was adopted by the researchers at CEA-Lab for Electronics & Information Technology in France. They discovered that it could automatically tune the system to enhance the bandwidth by almost one third of the resonant frequency, costing less than 5µ watts. The non-linear springs that were implemented could improve the vibration amplitude and frequency range.
With such creative solutions, MEMS vibrational micro power generation devices have turned out to be a fantastic option for commercial usage, and are certainly expected to become one of the most promising technologies of the future.
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