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Putting that free energy around you to good use with minuscule energy harvesters

Unlike conventional electret-based MEMS energy harvesters, which contain the entire system in a single chip, the proposed design methodology involves having the electret and the MEMS tunable capacitor in different chips, loosening up design constraints.  @ Daisuke Yamane

Tokyo Tech scientists developed a micro-electromechanical energy harvester that allows for more flexibility in design, which is crucial for the future of IoT.

Nowadays, it would be hard to not notice that electronic devices have become incredibly small. The use of miniature sensors in the upcoming Internet of Things (IoT) era could enable us to develop applications that were only seen in science fiction. However, microelectronic devices still require power to run, and energy-harvesting micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) can be used so that these minuscule contraptions can run on ambient energy, such as that coming from mechanical vibrations.

Conventional MEMS energy harvesters use an electret (the electrical equivalent of a permanent magnet; it has permanent charge stored in it) placed in an MEMS tunable capacitor, which has a moving electrode that is pushed by ambient forces, inducing the movement of charges. Unfortunately, this design is very constrained because the fabrication processes for both the electret and the MEMS components have to be compatible. Therefore, a team of scientists, led by Assistant Professor Daisuke Yamane, proposed a new MEMS electret-based energy harvester that consists of two separate chips: one for the MEMS tunable capacitor, and one containing an electret and dielectric material to form another capacitor. This allows us to physically separate MEMS structures and electrets for the first time," states Yamane.

"The proposed method can be a promising way to enhance the design and fabrication flexibility of both MEMS structures and electrets," concludes Yamane. Loosening up design constraints expands the limits for engineers and will accelerate the onset of the IoT era so that we can reap its benefits.

A MEMS Vibratory Energy Harvester Charged by an Off-chip Electret Daisuke Yamane, Hiroaki Honma and Hiroshi Toshiyoshi Conference: The 32nd International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems

Contact information: Daisuke Yamane Assistant Professor at Institute of Innovative Research in Tokyo Tech Tel: +81-45-924-5031

Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech)

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