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Texas Instruments: Leading in NanoPower Harvesting Innovation


One of today’s most exciting emerging technologies is a process called NanoPower Harvesting. The goal of this technology is to harness unexploited energy in the environment and put it to practical use. Extensive R&D efforts are underway.

Here is how Texas Instruments (TI), a technological leader in this developing field, paints the picture: “Imagine a world in which we’re surrounded by wireless sensors that monitor environmental conditions such as air quality, and they all simply scavenge the power they need from sunlight and elsewhere. The first glimmer of that day is already here.”

NanoPower Harvesting can be defined as systems that extract and manage tiny amounts of power from ambient sources such as light, solar, thermal, electromagnetic, or vibration to supply the power for low-power devices with applications that may not be possible with traditional battery-powered systems.

One future application is likely to be using energy from human body heat to power sensors for medical and fitness monitoring purposes, according to TI. Another could be monitoring the condition of infrastructure, such as bridges and levees, where checking and changing batteries is not especially practical. Yet another application almost certainly will include wireless monitoring of HVAC and lighting smart-systems in factories, office buildings, and homes.

TI has already introduced a number of products in this space. One is the bq25504 Ultra Low Power Boost Charger. This product does not harvest energy, but it provides the vital connection between a harvesting device (such as a photovoltaic solar cell) and an end-use electronic device. It features a high-efficiency current boost charger/converter, user-programmable power point tracking, cold-start capability, and flexible energy storage options. It operates on only 330 nano-amps, which TI notes is the best in the industry.

There is another environmental benefit of this technology. By reducing the need for batteries or extending their life, there will be fewer batteries ending up in landfills.

When placed on a wireless sensor node with three commonly available integrated circuit components, the bq25504 can extract energy from ambient light and use it in applications such as powering a microprocessor. This application provides a hint of the exciting things to come, as product designers will develop other innovative uses that conserve energy and improve our quality of life. In the interim, the work that TI is doing to expedite the use of this technology is a Great Manufacturing Story.