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Harnessing Ambient Energy for IoT: Silicon Labs’ New Energy Harvesting Solution

Sponsored by Silicon Labs

Introduction

There’s a groundbreaking new concept emerging in the IoT (Internet of Things) world. We’ve now reached a stage where devices can draw power from their environment, leading to a substantial decrease in energy costs and environmental footprint. This concept, the Ambient IoT, is poised to transform the IoT landscape, and Silicon Labs has just unveiled the xG22E series of chipsets that meet the demand for this new era of devices.

Energy harvesting and energy conservation are at the core of the Ambient IoT. IoT devices in this category draw energy from their environment, extending battery life or mitigating the need for them altogether. This not only reduces the environmental footprint of IoT devices but also significantly lowers their operational and maintenance costs.

Battery-Free IoT Devices: The Next Big Leap

Innovations in technology are continually pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. One of the most transformative advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT) is the emergence of battery-free devices, which are at the heart of the Ambient IoT. This idea, while simple, is a game-changer for the industry. By eliminating the need for batteries, we can completely overhaul the standard operating procedures for IoT devices.

Batteries have long been a limiting factor for IoT devices. They require regular replacements or recharging, which incurs costs and demands time. Moreover, batteries present an environmental challenge. With millions, if not billions, of IoT devices worldwide, the disposal of used batteries poses a significant ecological concern.

Energy harvesting solutions draw energy from surroundings, effectively harnessing the power they need for operation without the need for a traditional power source. This is where Silicon Labs’ new energy solutions come into play. The BG22E, MG22E, and FG22E (the new xG22E family of chipsets) are designed to help facilitate this transition towards battery-free IoT devices by satisfying the stringent requirements needed to make these energy harvesting feasible.

Energy harvesting solutions present a host of benefits:

  • They significantly reduce the environmental footprint of IoT devices, as there are no batteries to dispose of.
  • They also reduce the operational and maintenance costs associated with running these devices, as batteries are no longer needed to be replaced or recharged.
  • Furthermore, battery-free IoT devices can operate continuously without interruption. This constant operation can lead to more accurate data collection and improved performance, particularly in critical applications such as healthcare monitoring or industrial automation.

Technical Specs and Compatibility

Silicon Labs’ new solutions, the BG22E, MG22E, and FG22E, embody the principles of the Ambient IoT. They are designed with ultra-fast, low-energy cold-start, and deep sleep wake-up capabilities. These features significantly contribute to energy conservation, resulting in extended battery life for IoT devices (or even going battery-free).

They are also designed for maximum compatibility and interoperability. They can operate seamlessly with various power sources, power management systems, and energy harvesters. This flexibility allows IoT device manufacturers to choose the most suitable components for their needs and use cases.

Even with the impressive low power consumption numbers achievable by the existing xG22 series of chipsets, the new xG22E series has taken it even further. Here are some featured highlights:

  • Ultra-fast, low-energy cold start for applications that start from a zero-energy state to transmit packets and then rapidly return to sleep. An xG22E wakes up in only 8 ms, contributing to a 20% reduction in energy consumption during boot-up, making it ideal for battery-less applications.
  • Energy conserving deep sleep swift wake-up: they provide a 78% reduction in EM4 wake-up energy, enabling 10+ year coin cell battery operation for ultra-low power and extended storage applications.
  • Power-efficient energy mode transition to smoothly transition in and out of energy modes by mitigating current spikes or inrush, which can harm energy storage capacity.
  • Multiple deep sleep wake-up options, such as RFSense, GPIO, and RTC wake-up sources from the deepest EM4 sleep mode, are ideal for extended storage.
  • Additionally, the new chipsets are compatible with Silicon Labs’ existing Series 2 catalog. This compatibility means these new solutions can be integrated into existing IoT designs with minimal modifications, reducing the time and cost of bringing new, energy-efficient IoT devices to market.
Power Efficiency Metrics Comparison between xG22E and xG22

Interoperability and Third-Party Partners

To kick off the interoperability piece, Silicon Labs has partnered with e-peas, a provider of industry-leading Power Managed Integrated Circuits (PMICs) designed for energy harvesting. Together, they’ve co-developed two energy harvesting shields for the xG22E Explorer Kit:

  • The AEM13920 dual-harvester, which allows it to pull energy simultaneously from two distinct energy sources, like indoor or outdoor light, thermal gradients, and electromagnetic waves without sacrificing energy conversion efficiency.
  • The AEM00300 shield, which is dedicated to harvesting power from random pulsed energy sources.

Energy Harvesting Sources

You might be wondering: “What kind of sources can be utilized to harvest energy?”. Here are a few examples:

  1. Solar Energy: Solar energy is one of the most abundant and widely used sources for energy harvesting. Solar panels can convert sunlight directly into electricity.
  2. Thermal Energy: This refers to energy harvested from the heat difference between two objects. Thermoelectric generators, for example, can convert waste heat into usable energy.
  3. Vibration Energy: In environments with constant movement, such as factories or busy roadways, the vibration caused by machinery or vehicles can be converted into electrical energy using piezoelectric materials.
  4. Radio Frequency (RF) Energy: RF energy emitted from sources such as communication towers can be captured and converted into electricity.
  5. Wind Energy: Like solar, wind energy is a well-known source for energy harvesting. Small wind turbines can be used to generate electricity in windy locations.
  6. Kinetic Energy: This is energy harvested from the movement of objects or people. For example, some wristwatches are powered by the wearer’s movement.
  7. Chemical Energy: This is energy released in a chemical reaction, including energy from batteries or fuel cells.
  8. Tidal Energy: Energy harvested from the movement of water in the oceans or seas during tides.
  9. Geothermal Energy: This is energy harvested from the heat stored beneath the Earth’s surface.
  10. Bioenergy: This is energy obtained from organic materials (biomass), such as plants, waste, and even some types of algae.

Each of these sources has its unique strengths and challenges, and the choice of energy source for harvesting will depend on several factors, including location, application requirements, and available technology.

Applications

In terms of applications, many can benefit from energy harvesting solutions. Here are some examples:

  • Remote Controls
  • Smart Home Doors & Switches
  • Smart Sensors
  • Asset Tags
  • Electronic Shelf Labels
  • Smart Building Switches and Sensors
  • Smart Metering
  • Condition Monitoring & Factory Automation
  • Tire Pressure Monitor Sensors (TMPS)
  • Agriculture Sensing
  • Governmental Compliance/Regulations

The Role of Bluetooth LE in the Ambient IoT

Bluetooth Low Energy is a unique technology compared to other low-power wireless technologies. Instead of staying stagnant, it has adapted and developed over the years to address a variety of markets and use cases.

Here are just a few of the strong properties of Bluetooth LE that make it a great fit for the Ambient IoT:

  • Ultra-low power consumption
  • Low integrated circuit (IC) costs
  • Flexible topologies
  • Long-term support and backward compatibility

Overall, Bluetooth LE’s low-power capabilities, affordability, flexible topologies, long-term support, large infrastructure base, and interoperability make it a central technology enabling the Ambient IoT’s development and growth.

The Future of the Ambient IoT

The Ambient IoT market holds great promise, with increasing demand for energy-efficient, maintenance-free devices. Silicon Labs’ new energy solutions, the xG22E series of chipsets, are perfectly positioned to meet these market needs and drive the sustainable growth of the IoT industry.

As more IoT devices begin to use ambient energy for their operation, we can anticipate a significant reduction in the environmental impact of the IoT industry. This shift will also lead to lower operational costs for IoT deployments, making the technology more affordable and accessible for a broader range of applications and use cases.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Silicon Labs’ introduction of the BG22E, MG22E, and FG22E represents a significant stride towards a more sustainable and energy-efficient IoT industry. These new energy solutions offer several benefits, including lower energy consumption, extended battery life, and compatibility with a variety of power sources and energy harvesters.

The next step for IoT device manufacturers and solution providers is to explore these new solutions and consider how they can be integrated into their products. With the help of Silicon Labs’ application expertise and partner reference designs, this process can be smoother and more efficient.

The future of the IoT industry hinges on energy-efficient, maintenance-free devices. With its new energy solutions, Silicon Labs is leading the charge toward this future.

References & Additional Resources


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