Energy Harvesting for Embedded Systems: The future of autonomous wireless electronics without batteries

Presented at Still Hacking Anyway (SHA2017), Aug. 5, 2017, 6:30 p.m. (25 minutes)

Converting ambient energy into electrical energy to power wireless autonomous devices instead of batteries opens up a variety of opportunities to design electronic systems that last a life time, and don't ever need maintenance. This talk discusses the state of the art in energy harvesting, focusing on light, heat, and vibrations, and elaborating new storage media such as solid state cells and super capacitors. The emphasis is on practical applications and examples rather than theory, aiming to guide the audience on the way to removing batteries from their own creations and replacing them by energy harvesters.

Are there, aside from politicians, bigger nuisances than phone batteries running empty just when you need them, or smoke detectors beeping in the middle of the night because their batteries need replacement? Despite the progress made in electronic design the last 2 decades, most wireless devices are still powered by batteries. These only have a limited life time, tend to start leaking, and pose challenges to collect and recycle them. The environmental cost for manufacturing and disposal of batteries are no longer acceptable in a modern society. Energy harvesters, like solar cells, offer a solution: they convert energy already present in the ambient environment of the device into electrical energy that can power devices directly, think about calculators for example. When properly designed, such battery-less devices are equally reliable as their battery powered counterparts, but have a nearly infinite life time. In this presentation, Yannick Verbelen, head of the energy harvesting research group at the Brussels University, discusses progress in energy harvesting technology, explaining which types of energy harvesters are currently available on the market, their financial and environmental cost, and how they can be integrated to remove batteries from existing embedded systems. The presentation is aimed at a technical audience, but no prior knowledge about energy harvesting or embedded electronics is required.


  • Yannick Verbelen
    Hardware designer with a passion for renewable and sustainable energy development. Still struggling to decide which PCB solder mask is the prettiest.


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