Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new power converter chip that can harvest more than 80 percent of the energy trickling into it, even at the extremely low power levels characteristic of tiny solar cells. Previous ultralow-power converters that used the same approach had efficiencies of only 40 or 50 percent.
Moreover, the researchers’ chip achieves those efficiency improvements while assuming additional responsibilities. Where most of its ultralow-power predecessors could use a solar cell to either charge a battery or directly power a device, this chip can do both, and it can power the device directly from the battery.
All of those operations also share a single inductor — the chip’s main electrical component — which saves on circuit board space but increases the circuit complexity even further. Nonetheless, the chip’s power consumption remains low.
Achieving a low-power sensor that can run for months without battery changes or extract energy from the environment to recharge is ideal for Internet of Things technologies such as building automation systems and integrated municipal lighting control systems.
The prototype chip was manufactured through the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s University Shuttle Program.