12:30am Thursday 14 November 2019

MIT researchers develop heat-powered electronics

But new technology being developed by MIT researchers could make such replacements unnecessary.

New energy-scavenging systems being developed by MIT Prof. Anantha Chandrakasan and alumnus Yogesh Ramadass PhD ’09 could provide power for such sensors just from differences in temperature between the body (or other warm object) and the surrounding air, eliminating or reducing the need for a battery.

The unique aspect of the new MIT-developed devices is their ability to harness differences of just one or two degrees, producing tiny (about 100 microwatts) but nevertheless usable amounts of electric power. The findings were presented last week at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco.

Ramadass says that as a result of research over the last decade, the power consumption of various electronic sensors, processors and communications devices has been greatly reduced, making it possible to power such devices from very low-power energy harvesting systems such as this wearable thermoelectric system.

Such a system, for example, could enable 24-hour-a-day monitoring of heart rate, blood sugar or other biomedical data, through a simple device worn on an arm or a leg and powered just by the body’s temperature (which, except on a 98.6-degree F summer day, would almost always be different from the surrounding air). Or it could be used to monitor the warm exhaust gases in the flues of a chemical plant, or air quality in the ducts of a heating and ventilation system.

How they did it: The key to the new technology is a control circuit that optimizes the match between the energy output from the thermoelectric material (which generates power from temperature differences) and the storage system connected to it, in this case a storage capacitor.

Next steps: The present experimental versions of the device require a metal heat-sink worn on an arm or leg, exposed to the ambient air. “There’s work to be done on miniaturizing the whole system,” Ramadass says. This might be accomplished by combining and simplifying the electronics and by improving airflow over the heat sink. —

Source: ISSCC program abstracts (talk 27.1)

Funding: Seed grant from the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI)


contact: Jen Hirsch – MIT News Office
email: jfhirsch@mit.edu
call: 617-253-1682
written by: David L. Chandler, MIT News Office

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