From the MEMS Investor Journal / MEPTEC MicroPower Workshop

Paul Werbaneth, Vice President Marketing & Applications, Tegal Corporation

From the MEMS Investor Journal / MEPTEC MicroPower Workshop, Thursday 22 October 2009, San Jose, CA:

Hot or cool. Fire or ice. Temperature differentials across a Peltier device.

The 1st Annual MicroPower Workshop, put on by the MEMS Investor Journal (great job Mike Pinelis!) and MEPTEC (great job Bette Cooper!) couldn’t have started stronger, or ended stronger, or been too much better in between.  To start:  Professor Al Pisano, UC Berkeley, speaking on “Multi-Fuel Micro Engines.”

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of a 1:1 with Al, or been in the audience for one of his very dynamic presentations, then you’ll know that Al has a hot, almost fiery, personal style.  Combine that with New York wit (all those years at Columbia?), and it’s almost all you can do to keep up, running here with the big dog.  I will tell you, if you weren’t already convinced about the elegance of making small Wankel engines run on almost any kind of combustible fuel while changing the fuel mixture real time (like moving from a martini to white wine to red wine to cognac during an elaborate dinner?) before Al’s presentation, you were a true believer by the time he was done.

Vroom vroom Al.  Vroom vroom.

So the hot side was hot.

In contrast, and across the Alps from where Al’s people started, came Burkhard Habbe, Micropelt, with “Utilizing Waste Energy for Better System Control and Maintenance in Wireless Sensor Networks – Thermal Energy Harvesting.”  It’s all so logical, this high voltage thin film thermogenerator device Burkhard led us through, Burkhard first grounding us in thermoelectric basics before moving to a practical energy harvesting example from a mid-winter apartment living room, with a too-warm radiator and a window opened to cold air in response.  (Sounds like New York to me, but I guess they have the same problem in Germany.)

Burkard’s live demonstration, of harvesting energy by exploiting the temperature differential between a bare forearm and the hotel conference ballroom, had everyone in the audience cheering on that little wireless TE-Power NODE, and the guy powering it.

The cool side was cool.  Way cool.

Forming the Bismuth-Telluride layer in between, so to speak, were Jeff Morse (U Mass), on MEMS based fuel cells (more about that at the MEMS Executive Congress next month), Jerry Ruddle (Advanced Ceramics) and Thomas Daue (Smart Materials) with PZT-based devices for harvesting vibrational energy, with stops along the way to consider whether turning wheels can power Tire Pressure Monitoring systems (maybe; Shad Roundy from Atmel), how to store what energy it is you’ve scavenged (David Squires, Infinite Power Solutions), how to mange it all (Charles Lakeman, TPL Inc.), and thoughts on just what commercial markets for this space will be like (Richard Dixon, iSuppli).

What a program.  How much better calibrated I am now about energy harvesting than I was going in to the workshop.  How elegant this all seems: being able to tap available energy and divert what might have been waste (or “rejected energy”) into doing something useful.

The take-away for me from today is that energy harvesting/micropower is all about engineering now, not about doing basic science (and not about hucksterism either–no perpetual motion machines here).

It’s practical. It makes good sense. Its time is now.

From San Jose, CA, thanks for reading.

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