MicroGen Systems, LLC is located at the Cornell Business & Technology Park in Ithaca, NY. MicroGen is developing a patent-pending MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) based Piezoelectric Vibrational Energy Harvester (mPZEH). The microfabrication development efforts are being completed at the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (www.cnf.cornell.edu).
MicroGen's micro-scale BOLT™ power generator is intended to provide an alternate power source to the battery for low-power electronics, and wireless sensor network (WSN) applications. These applications include Smart Energy/Grid (e.g. reducing energy usage in computer server rooms), Smart Transportation (e.g. vibration sensors on planes and trains; tire-pressure monitoring systems on automobiles), Smart Infrastructure (e.g. monitoring the structural integrity of bridges), and Homeland Security (e.g. Smart Asset Tracking) and defense applications (e.g. anti-tamper electronics).
The BOLT product will produce voltages >5 Volts and power >200 uWatts at 60/120Hz +/- 5 Hz and 1g acceleration with greater than 20 year reliability. The product is integrated with voltage rectifying/regulating electronics, and thin-film rechargeable batteries and/or ultra-capacitors for power storage.
MicroGen's PZEH devices have been designed using several design tools, including IntelliSuite finite-element-analysis (FEA) software (www.intellisense.com), SolidWorks 3D Design Software, Wolfram Research's Mathematica, and Tanner EDA's L-Edit Pro photo-mask layout editor. These design tools and experimental prototyping have led to MicroGen's three (3) pending PZEH design patents. Two patents allow for multi-axis (up to 3) and broad bandwidth (+/- 10 Hz) power generation. The last patent is for a highly manufacturable and low production cost general PZEH device. Finally, MicroGen's product utilizes piezoelectric material, aluminum nitride (AlN), which is much more manufacturable than the typical material used called lead-zirconate-titanate (PZT). Modeling has shown that AlN produces 11X more voltage (very important for since DC rectification can reduce the AC voltage by 0.2 Volts) and 83% of the power as compared to PZT (the reduced power is compensated by modestly increasing the size of the device.) These attributes provide significant differentiation from competing companies, where typical vibrational energy harvesters generate power from only 1-axis, has a bandwidth of +/- 2 Hz, and do not use low production cost MEMS fabrication and packaging techniques.
The latter point is paramount since most energy harvesters are fabricated at the meso-scale (large - the size of an small apple or two, and costly due to mechanical assembly - $300-900 each), and do not rely on batch fabrication techniques. As with computer chips, MEMS devices decrease in cost with increasing substrate size and volume, and overall production yield. MicroGen's BOLT product is the size of a small marble or less, and is projected to cost less than $25 each with 10M units sold. The price will continue to drop with increasing volume, and will ultimately be able to compete with the battery. End-users utilizing the BOLT power source (priced at $100) over alkaline or lithium non-rechargeable batteries will save $3.7M and $1.6M over 10 years, respectively for a 1000-node WSN (e.g. monitoring a bridge or industrial facility). MicroGen's alpha-level product release is targeted for summer 2010.
MicroGen will be powering A Smarter Planet™.