We are entering an era of electronic systems powered, or at least augmented, by energy harvesters. Future self-powered applications will require electronic systems that are more complex and compact but also intelligent, adaptive and able to perform more computation with less energy. âNext Generation Energy-Harvesting Electronics: Holistic Approachâ is a Â£1.6M collaborative research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which began in November 2009. The project consortium consists of over 20 people at four Universities (Southampton, Imperial, Newcastle and Bristol) working in collaboration with five industrial partners: QinetiQ, Diodes Inc., ARM, NXP, and Mentor Graphics.
The project recognises the high level of interaction in an energy harvesting system, from the design and properties of the micro-generator and power conversion electronics, to the design and architecture of the load and the algorithms and applications that operate on it. This approach aims to maximise the available harvested energy and the efficiency with which it is used, and is fundamental to ultra energy-efficient design and to the miniaturisation of next-generation wireless electronics. These developments are needed in emerging application areas, including pervasive healthcare and autonomous environmental and industrial monitoring.
The three themes of the project are:
Adaptive, High-Efficiency Micro Generators: This project is advancing the state-of-the-art by developing a micro-generator capable of adapting its resonant frequency and damping. This will achieve, for the first time, âbroadband and resonantâ energy harvesting, thereby representing a step-change in the average power density. This theme is also investigating the interactions between an adaptive micro-generator and the power conditioning and control circuitry. This aspect of the research is investigating and designing circuit architectures that provide an efficient interface between the micro-generator and load electronics, thus linking with the second theme.
Energy Harvesting-Aware Computation Circuits: The project is investigating energy-harvester-aware design methods for computational logic that are capable of working with variable and unpredictable energy sources. This will radically advance the state-of-the-art in ultra low power design and expand it into the area of power-adaptive electronics and computing. This research includes the investigation of generic design techniques for highly adaptive computational circuits, and the investigation of asynchronous and synchronous processor designs specifically for energy harvesting applications.
Integrated Modelling & Performance Optimisation for Energy Harvesting Systems: To achieve optimisation of the whole energy harvesting system, the project is investigating and developing an integrated modelling and performance optimisation methodology to underpin the generation of an automated design toolkit. This will allow the modelling, simulation and optimisation of vibration-based energy harvesters. A version will be made available at the end of the project to enable users to develop bespoke system solutions where required. To support automated optimisation, the project is also investigating methods and techniques for making dramatic improvements in the simulation performance of energy harvesting systems.
The project will deliver a range of research outputs, and includes the creation of demonstrators for the concepts in each theme and also of the project as a whole, highlighting the importance of âholisticâ design in this field. The three research themes are key areas that require interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration. The key differentiator of this project is that, due to the strong interaction between themes, they cannot be achieved in isolation (instead requiring a multi-disciplinary consortium taking a holistic design approach). This design approach is fundamental to ultra energy-efficient design and to the miniaturisation of next-generation wireless electronics.