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PVs still beat MEMS for energy harvest, says panel

Posted: 18 Mar 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MEMS? energy harvesters? photovoltaics? Microgenerators? transistors?

During the one-day MEMS Executive Congress Europe, a panel discussion on energy and MEMS drew interest as differences in opinion were exposed. The discussion cast some doubts on the use of MEMS for energy harvesters but the audience remained optimistic about the prospects of the technology.

The debate was sparked by panelist Wim Sinke, program development manager for solar energy at the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands. "MEMS may be talking about energy but I have to tell you energy is not talking about MEMS," Sinke said. "You are not going to beat PV [photovoltaics] except in some small-scale and specialist applications."

Sinke did indicate that MEMS devices could find markets supporting an industry where the renewable energy will be focused on solar energy and wind generation. "There is increasingly two-way traffic [on the grid] and MEMS could find a place introducing intelligence and control at all levels," he said.

Fellow panelist Eric Yeatman, professor of micro-engineering at Imperial College London, backed up Sinke pointing out that global energy generation capacity stands at 4-terawatts while individual energy harvest devices generate milliwatts at best.

Moderator Bert Gyselinckx, general manager of the Holst research centre in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, did question whether anyone was seriously proposing MEMS as large-scale energy source but did acknowledge that there may be better small-scale energy sources than MEMS, including Peltier effect devices and photovoltaics.

It was conference audience member Robert Andosca, CEO of MicroGen Systems Inc., that carried the fight back to the panel. "I agree you're not going to replace large-scale energy generation with MEMS. But you can use a small amount of energy to save a large amount, a leverage effect." Andosca went on the give examples.

Andosca's own company is close to launching a narrowband vibration harvester that can generate 100 microwatts dc that could be used to power some simple wireless sensor nodes. "If you can save 10 minutes off each use of a clothes dryer in the United States by putting a humidity sensor in the rotating drum that would save $1.3 billion per year in energy. He acknowledged that sometimes small-scale photovoltaics may be useful but not always. "In sensors used to monitor cows they tried solar cells, they get dirty," said Andosca.

MEMS Panel

Panel on MEMS in Energy at MEMS Executive Congress Europe. From left to right: Bert Gyselinckx, Wim Sinke, Professor Eric Yeatman and Harry Zervos.

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