NPL focuses on characterization of MEMS energy harvesting devices

February 16, 2011 – The realization of self-powered microsystems for medical implants, drug delivery, remote monitoring, or safety-driven applications forms the basis behind a new project being run at the UK’s NPL by the Functional Materials Group. The goal is to replace batteries in these applications with an energy-scavenging power supply.

This energy harvesting power supply would eliminate the environmental hazards and costs associated with battery technologies. Energy harvesting covers the scavenging of many low-grade energy sources such as environmental vibrations, human power, thermal sources, wind energy and their conversion into useable electrical energy.

This project is concerned mainly with environmental vibrations and human power, where the transformation of mechanical to electrical energy is used to power small autonomous devices. The conversion can be achieved by various methods; however, the most promising options for MEMS devices include magnetic, piezoelectric and magnetostrictive transformation.

Example applications might include airborne particle detection in massively parallel autonomous sensing systems (motes), medical condition monitoring with embedded active drug delivery systems, and the development of structural health monitoring systems that scavenge innate vibrations for self power.

The global market for microsystems technology is estimated at $35 billion (2002 – Nexus: Market analysis for MST 2000-2005), with biomedical applications estimated at EU12B.There are a wide range of UK companies that would benefit from this understanding of this technology, from healthcare to transport, the energy sector, aerospace and defense sectors, where MST is given a high priority. The expected time frame during which this technology will be demonstrated extends from 2 to 5 years for defense applications associated with the Smart Soldier concept to 3-7 years for domestic appliances (MP3 players with built-in energy scavengers for example).

Knowledge will be shared with all partners onboard the project, whilst the wider community will enjoy open access to the generic metrology output in the form of web-based tools, new pre-normative standards documents, and the work will be further assessed for quality through the peer-reviewed publication process. Case studies will demonstrate the concepts so that organizations not in the materials supply market will gain a better understanding of the benefits associated with energy harvesting.

Read more in the recent edition of NPL’s Environmental Measures at http://www.npl.co.uk/publications/newsletters/

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is the UK’s National Measurement Institute and is a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards, science and technology. Read about NPL’s Functional Materials research at http://www.npl.co.uk/advanced-materials/materials-areas/functional/

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