The Immortal IoT: How Energy-Harvesting PMICs and Low-Power MCUs Enable the “Infinite Battery”July 06, 2020 by Jake Hertz
Belgian company e-peas is looking to disrupt the IoT industry by providing an array of energy-harvesting PMICs and low power MCUs.
By the year 2025, IDC experts predict that there will be as many as 41.6 billion connected IoT devices deployed worldwide. Once deployed, one of the biggest logistical challenges of an IoT device is dealing with its finite battery life.
Example IoT battery life expectations based on data rates. Image used courtesy of Ingenu
With billions of devices deployed, often in remote locations, it is inconvenient and costly to manually access these devices and change their batteries. Furthermore, any time your device spends down because of dead batteries is time and money wasted.
To deal with this problem there are two things that can be done.
The first is to maximize battery life by creating the most power-efficient devices possible. Ultra-low-power design is a huge focus for engineers in the IoT space and solutions are constantly being developed, like Innophase's new multi-protocol modules that claim to change the game of battery-based IoT.
Other design options for low-power designs include low-power ICs and power-efficient communication protocols. Another option is optimizing how frequently a device will transmit data and the amount of data per transmission.
Block diagram of how an energy-autonomous IoT device might work. Image used courtesy of Johan J. Estrada-Lopez et al.
Engineers might also equip a device with rechargeable batteries and harvest energy from the environment to power them. Ideally, if a device became entirely energy-autonomous, you’d never have to worry about battery life.
Where e-peas Fits In
Belgium-based company e-peas is developing solutions for both of these methods with the goal of maximizing battery life in IoT solutions. The company released made news when it raised Euro 8 million in funding to support this goal.
e-peas currently offers two lines of products: a low-power MCU for IoT and a series of energy-harvesting PMICs. In fact, last year, AAC contributor Gary Elinoff gave an in-depth analysis of one of these PMICs that harvests energy from thermoelectric generators. From the looks of it, the energy harvesting side of things is where e-peas’ real bread and butter is.
Energy Harvesting Plus Low-Power MCUs
Currently available on their website are five different PMICs enabling users to harvest 4 different types of ambient energy: solar, thermal, vibration, and radiofrequency. Providing customers the ability to harvest multiple sources of ambient energy makes e-peas unique and versatile. A company that focuses on harvesting solar, for example, would have the application of their product limited to locations where solar is feasible. e-peas, on the other hand, is looking to provide solutions for all IoT devices in general.
Intended setup for the AEM20940, a PMIC focused on thermoelectric generation. Image used courtesy of e-peas
Amongst many potential applications, e-peas claims its solutions are already being used in gas sensors, smartwatches, and smart locks (to name a few).
A Long-Lasting Solution For IoT
Battery management for IoT is a huge logistical concern that engineers are working to solve. While creating ultra-low-power devices is an important goal, even the lowest power devices have finite battery life. Companies like e-peas are looking to solve this problem and ultimately get rid of the disposable battery energy storage element in a large range of wireless applications.
With a highly regarded portfolio of energy harvesting PMICs, e-peas looks poised to be one of the companies that will help IoT become the massive revolution that experts are predicting.
Featured image used courtesy of e-peas
How do you conserve power in IoT-facing designs? Share your thoughts in the comments below.