ROSEMOUNT, Ill. Using nanotechnology and MEMS technology in energy harvesting applications is a work in progress that nevertheless shows huge potential, experts said.
Progress was in evidence at this week's Sensors Expo here, including a session on using nanotechnology and MEMS in energy harvesting applications. Panelists said companies like EaglePicher, Tadiran and Varta are capitalizing on existing lithium technologies to offer micro batteries for energy harvesting applications.
Roger Grace of Roger Grace Associates said energy harvesting is "still at the research stage, but progress has accelerated in the past year to where we are seeing some good commercial results."
Micro-energy scavengers are being considered for advanced tire-pressure monitors (TPM). Market researcher WTC expects the market to exceed $200 million in 2009, driven in the U.S. by regulatory issues and in Europe by product differentiation in the auto industry.
TPM systems attached to tires rather than wheel rims create a potential annual retrofit market of over 1.2 billion tires. Energy scavengers could replace batteries to reduce weight, increase functionality and reduce the environmental impact.
A new report by the Darnell Group found that energy harvesting startups are looking to partner with chip makers. According to the report, power management IC makers like Texas Instruments, Nordic Semiconductor and STMicroelectronics are positioned to enter the energy harvesting market.
The report also highlights startups like EnOcean, Ubiwave, Powercast and Perpetuum. Some have commercial products while others are still in the prototype stage.
Wireless sensor network developer Dust Networks announced this week that it is using Kilopass XPM memory in its embedded network products. Those devices are used for analog tuning and secure storage.
Gregory Withee, senior advisor to the National Oceanic and Amospheric Administration, said more development is needed on low-power sensor and energy harvesting technologies to "find cheaper ways to make observations of the Earth's activities than with current expensive satellites." He listed sensor webs, self-reconfiguring sensor nets, biosensors, wireless nanosensors and cheaper data management systems for U.S. earth observation programs.
"We are spending $6 billion a year on observation technology and we are not getting enough returns on that investment," said Withee.