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Three Energy Harvesting Kits Prove Viable to Improving Energy Efficiency

As energy costs rise, manufacturers of power supplies strive to improving efficiency, reduce heat and lower electrical costs. While conserving energy is important, energy harvesting devices that convert ambient energy from the environment – solar power, thermal energy, wind energy, salinity gradients, and kinetic energy – into electrical energy and store it for small, low-energy electronics are proving increasingly viable for many applications.

Energy harvesting devices vary based on the amount and type of energy they can collect. For example, the vibration and motion from a person (known as kinetic energy) can provide approximately 4 µW/cm² of energy and harvesting energy from the temperature difference from their skin surface (thermoelectric energy) can provide 25 µW/ cm². Photovoltaic energy – capturing light – offers about 10 µW/cm² from indoor lighting and 10 mW/cm² from outdoors. The greatest opportunity may be in harvesting energy from industry. The thermoelectric energy created from industry can provide as much as 10 mW/cm² and kinetic energy can provide up to 100 µW/cm².

The eZ430-RF2500-SHE is a complete solar energy harvesting development kit from Texas Instruments to help create a perpetually powered wireless sensor network. Based on its ultra-low-power TI MSP430 microcontroller, the solar energy harvester module includes a high-efficiency solar panel optimized for operating indoors under low-intensity fluorescent light. This provides enough power to run a wireless sensor application with no additional batteries. Inputs are also available for external energy harvesters such as thermal, piezoelectric, or another solar panel. The kit includes a USB debugging interface and a battery pack with expansion board.

Based on PIC microcontroller, the Microchip XLP 16-bit energy harvesting development kit features low-power circuits and a solar energy harvester. The controllers have low sleep currents of 20 nA, a watchdog timer of 220 nA, an RTC of 470 nA, and runtime currents of 50 uA/MHz. See this video for more information.

Along with a Cymbet EVAL-08 solar energy harvester for power, the Microchip development board offers on-board temperature sensors, data EEPROM, and two rechargeable energy storage devices that also supply energy to the development board when light is not available.

Figure 1: The Cymbet CBC-Eval-09 evaluation kit caters to most energy sources and combines the EnerChip EP CBC915-ACA energy processor with the EnerChip CBC51100 100-µAh solid-state battery module.

Finally, the Cymbet CBC-Eval-09 evaluation kit works across almost all energy harvesting transducer technologies including photovoltaic, thermoelectric, piezoelectric, and electromagnetic (see Fig. 1). As such, it can help engineers experiment and design for all types of ambient-energy including light, vibration, thermal, and flow/motion. The kit combines the EnerChip EP CBC915-ACA energy processor with the EnerChip CBC51100 100-µAh solid-state battery module.