Next Generation Energy-Harvesting Electronics - holistic approach 1763

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Whilst the electronics industry is battling with the demand to extend the battery life in the presence of increased functionality through continuing innovation in low power hardware and software, there is a clear opportunity to develop complementary/alternative energy sources for self-powered electronics needed in emerging application areas including mobile digital health, autonomous environmental and industrial monitoring. This is a three-year collaborative research project undertaken by four universities (Bristol, Newcastle, Imperial and Southampton) under three integrated research themes. The project will be carried out in collaboration with five suitably selected industrial partners in line with the research themes and applications: QinetiQ, Zetex, ARM, NXP and Mentor Graphics. Two international experts will also contribute to the project as visiting researchers: Prof. L. Benini, Bologna Uni., and Prof. P. Wright, Berkeley. Our experience, discussions with industry (a recent example is the Batteries Not Included seminar, NXP, Southampton, July 2008, organized by the Electronics Knowledge Transfer Network) and the findings of the recently completed EPSRC-funded Microelectronics Design Grand Challenges Network indicate a consensus that we are entering the era of electronics powered or least augmented, by energy harvesters. Future self-powered applications will require more complex and more compact electronic systems that are intelligent, adaptive and required to perform more computation with less energy. To achieve global optimisation and enhanced functionality, a significant improvement in self-powered electronic design and implementation is required. This can be achieved by adopting an integrated research programme, which takes a holistic design approach to the complex issues surrounding the development of next-generation energy-harvesting systems. In this research programme we propose to take a holistic design approach that will fully consider and exploit the interactions between the micro-generator, power conditioning circutry and computational electronics to make efficient use of the generated energy. The new design methodology will be incorporated into a novel mixed-technology domain modelling, and performance optimization deign toolkit. This design approach is fundamental to ultra energy-efficient design and to the miniaturisation of next-generation wireless electronics. The developed technology, design methods and toolkit will be validated by simulation, experimentation, three ASIC prototypes (adaptive micro-generator, synchronous and asynchronous processors) and a self-powered autonomous wireless sensor node demonstrator for industrial machinery condition monitoring application. To the best of our knowledge, no research programme in Europe or the US has developed a holistic design approach for energy harvesting electronic systems. The proposed three themes are key new areas that require interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration.


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Description We developed the world's first maximum power point tracking system with a power consumption of 40 microwatts. This task is typically carried out slowly (in steps of seconds and minutes) by a PC, requiring many watts. Our system can track the optimal power to be extracted from a source using five orders of magnitude less power.
Exploitation Route This work has been taken forward into new application areas, such as health monitoring. In order to further reduce the power, and therefor allow the miniaturisation of the power source, the circuits were integrated onto chips.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Transport

Description The results led us to understand how to operate microcontroller circuits when very little power is available. These results where then used in the 2013-16 SAVVIE research project to develop electronics that stays alive under intermittent power. Under the 2014-2019 SPHERE health sensing project, one work package (2014-2016) took this forward to develop and Sensor Driven electronics that can monitor sensors using nanowatts of power. This meant energy harvesting was now viable and that batteries can last for decades in certain applications. The technology was prepared for commercial sampling using an EPSRC Acceleration Award. Once successfully trialled by industry, this technology was licensed in 2017 to Sensor Driven Ltd, which received private investment, UK Innovate UK awards, and which is currently employing engineers to create electronic sensors that do not require battery replacement, and to set up trials with industry.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Impact Acceleration Commercialisation Award
Amount £63,048 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2017
Description Functional materials Southampton 
Organisation University of Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided Southampton with energy harvesting circuits designed specifically for their functional materials, and designs for wireless power transfer devices.
Collaborator Contribution Southampton have provided us with functional materials, such as ferroelectret energy harvesters, and have made power transfer coils and antennas to our design.
Impact Multidisciplinarity: material science, analogue integrated design, low power electronic circuit design. Outcomes: New joint research, and working energy harvesting systems.
Start Year 2010
Description Newcastle low power electronics 
Organisation Newcastle University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided new paradigms for energy management in energy harvesting systems, where power is intermittent.
Collaborator Contribution Newcastle have provided new paradigms for energy management in low power computing.
Impact We obtained a joint EPSRC grant through the outcomes of this collaboration, and this lead on to be invited into the £12M SPHERE project.
Start Year 2010
Company Name Sensor Driven Ltd 
Description SensorDriven enables monitoring devices to listen whilst being fully powered down, ensuring power resources are conserved for acting on relevant events. Our passive detector technology reacts to a wide range of physical parameters and presents a paradigm shift in power and data budgeting, delivering compact, ultra-long lifetime sensor solutions. 
Year Established 2017 
Impact 2 full-time engineers