Piezoelectric Kinetic Energy-harvesting ICs
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Wireless micro-sensors can enjoy popularity in biomedical drug-delivery treatments and tire-pressure monitoring systems because they offer in-situ, real-time, non-intrusive processing capabilities. However, miniaturized platforms severely limit the energy of onboard batteries and shorten the lifespan of electronic systems. Ambient energy is an attractive alternative because the energy from light, heat, radio-frequency (RF) radiation, and motion can potentially be used to continuously replenish an exhaustible reservoir. Of these sources, solar light produces the highest power density, except when supplied from indoor lighting, under which conditions the available power decreases drastically. Harnessing thermal energy is viable, but micro-scale dimensions severely limit temperature gradients, the fundamental mechanism from which thermo piles draw power. Mobile electronic devices today radiate plenty of RF energy, but still, the available power rapidly drops with distance. Harvesting kinetic energy may not compete with solar power, but in contrast to indoor lighting, thermal, and RF sources, moderate and consistent vibration power across a vast range of applications is typical. Although operating conditions ultimately determine which kinetic energy-harvesting method is optimal, piezoelectric transducers are relatively mature and produce comparatively more power than their counterparts such as electrostatic and electromagnetic kinetic energy transducers. The presented research objective is to develop, design, simulate, fabricate, prototype, test, and evaluate CMOS ICs that harvest ambient kinetic energy in periodic and non-periodic vibrations using a small piezoelectric transducer to continually replenish an energy-storage device like a capacitor or a rechargeable battery. Although vibrations in surrounding environment produce abundant energy over time, tiny transducers can harness only limited power from the energy sources, especially when mechanical stimulation is weak. To overcome this challenge, the presented piezoelectric harvesters eliminate the need for a rectifier which necessarily imposes threshold limits and additional losses in the system. More fundamentally, the presented harvesting circuits condition the transducer to convert more electrical energy for a given mechanical input by increasing the electromechanical damping force of the piezoelectric transducer. The overall aim is to acquire more power by widening the input range and improving the efficiency of the IC as well as the transducer. The presented technique in essence augments the energy density of micro-scale electronic systems by scavenging the ambient kinetic energy and extends their operational lifetime. This dissertation reports the findings acquired throughout the investigation. The first chapter introduces the applications and challenges of micro-scale energy harvesting and also reviews the fundamental mechanisms and recent developments of various energy-converting transducers that can harness ambient energy in light, heat, RF radiation, and vibrations. Chapter 2 examines various existing piezoelectric harvesting circuits, which mostly adopt bridge rectifiers as their core. Chapter 3 then introduces a bridge-free piezoelectric harvester circuit that employs a switched-inductor power stage to eliminate the need for a bridge rectifier and its drawbacks. More importantly, the harvester strengthens the electrical damping force of the piezoelectric device and increases the output power of the harvester. The chapter also presents the details of the integrated-circuit (IC) implementation and the experimental results of the prototyped harvester to corroborate and clarify the bridge-free harvester operation. One of the major discoveries from the first harvester prototype is the fact that the harvester circuit can condition the piezoelectric transducer to strengthen its electrical damping force and increase the output power of the harvester. As such, Chapter 4 discusses various energy-investment strategies that increase the electrical damping force of the transducer. The chapter presents, evaluates, and compares several switched-inductor harvester circuits against each other. Based on the investigation in Chapter 4, an energy-investing piezoelectric harvester was designed and experimentally evaluated to confirm the effectiveness of the investing scheme. Chapter 5 explains the details of the IC design and the measurement results of the prototyped energy-investing piezoelectric harvester. Finally, Chapter 6 concludes the dissertation by revisiting the challenges of miniaturized piezoelectric energy harvesters and by summarizing the fundamental contributions of the research. With the same importance as with the achievements of the investigation, the last chapter lists the technological limits that bound the performance of the proposed harvesters and briefly presents perspectives from the other side of the research boundary for future investigations of micro-scale piezoelectric energy harvesting.