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Talanta. 2008 May 15;75(3):613-23. doi: 10.1016/j.talanta.2007.12.021. Epub 2007 Dec 26.

Energy scavenging for long-term deployable wireless sensor networks.

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Tyndall National Institute, Lee Maltings, Prospect Row, Cork, Ireland.


The coming decade will see the rapid emergence of low cost, intelligent, wireless sensors and their widespread deployment throughout our environment. While wearable systems will operate over communications ranges of less than a meter, building management systems will operate with inter-node communications ranges of the order of meters to tens of meters and remote environmental monitoring systems will require communications systems and associated energy systems that will allow reliable operation over kilometers. Autonomous power should allow wireless sensor nodes to operate in a "deploy and forget" mode. The use of rechargeable battery technology is problematic due to battery lifetime issues related to node power budget, battery self-discharge, number of recharge cycles and long-term environmental impact. Duty cycling of wireless sensor nodes with long "SLEEP" times minimises energy usage. A case study of a multi-sensor, wireless, building management system operating using the Zigbee protocol demonstrates that, even with a 1 min cycle time for an 864 ms "ACTIVE" mode, the sensor module is already in SLEEP mode for almost 99% of the time. For a 20-min cycle time, the energy utilisation in SLEEP mode exceeds the ACTIVE mode energy by almost a factor of three and thus dominates the module energy utilisation thereby providing the ultimate limit to the power system lifetime. Energy harvesting techniques can deliver energy densities of 7.5 mW/cm(2) from outdoor solar, 100 microW/cm(2) from indoor lighting, 100 microW/cm(3) from vibrational energy and 60 microW/cm(2) from thermal energy typically found in a building environment. A truly autonomous, "deploy and forget" battery-less system can be achieved by scaling the energy harvesting system to provide all the system energy needs. In the building management case study discussed, for duty cycles of less than 0.07% (i.e. in ACTIVE mode for 0.864 s every 20 min), energy harvester device dimensions of approximately 2 cm on a side would be sufficient to supply the complete wireless sensor node energy. Key research challenges to be addressed to deliver future, remote, wireless, chemo-biosensing systems include the development of low cost, low-power sensors, miniaturised fluidic transport systems, anti-bio-fouling sensor surfaces, sensor calibration, reliable and robust system packaging, as well as associated energy delivery systems and energy budget management.

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