Wirelessly powered electronics can enable a greener Internet of Things – Inceptive Mind

Wirelessly powered electronics developed by KAUST researchers could help to make internet of things technology more environmentally friendly.

Driving the increasing number of sensor nodes used in the Internet of Things (IoT) poses a technological challenge. The economics and sustainability issues of battery-powered devices mean that wireless operation – combined with environmentally friendly circuit technologies – will be needed.

A KAUST-led international team has suggested that there are emerging forms of thin-film device technologies that rely on alternative semiconductors materialswhich can be based on organic semiconductors, amorphous metal oxide semiconductors, semiconducting carbon nanotubes and two-dimensional semiconductors could provide a solution.

The IoT will have a major impact on everyday life and on many industries. It connects and facilitates data exchange between a large number of smart objects of different types and sizes via the internet and other sensor and communication networks. This growing hypernetwork is expected to reach trillions of devices by the next decade, increasing the number sensor nodes deployed on its platform.

Currently, sensor nodes rely on batteries for the energy required for their operation. But batteries need to be replaced regularly, which is expensive and harmful to the environment over time.

Wirelessly powered sensor nodes can help realize a sustainable IoT by extracting energy from the environment using so-called energy harvesters, such as photovoltaic cells and radio frequency (RF) energy harvesters, among other technologies. Large-area electronics could be the key to making these power sources possible.

For their study, KAUST alumni Kalaivanan Loganathan, with Thomas Anthopoulos and colleagues, explored the viability of various large area electronic technologies and their potential to deliver environmentally friendly, wirelessly powered internet of things sensor nodes.

Large-area electronics have recently emerged as an attractive alternative to conventional silicon-based technologies thanks to significant advances in solution-based processes making it easier to print devices and circuits on flexible, large-area substrates. They can be produced at low temperatures and on biodegradable substrates such as paper, making them more environmentally friendly than their silicon-based counterparts.

Over the years, the team has developed a range of RF electronic components, including metal oxide and organic polymer based semiconductor devices known as Schottky diodes. “These devices are critical components in wireless energy harvesters and ultimately dictate the performance and cost of the sensor nodes,” says Loganathan.

The KAUST team developed scalable methods for fabricating RF diodes to harvest energy reaching the 5G/6G frequency range. “Such technologies provide the necessary building blocks for a more sustainable way to power the billions of sensor nodes in the near future,” Anthopoulos say.

Now the team is exploring the monolithic integration of these low-power devices with antenna and sensors to show their true potential, Loganathan added.

Magazine reference:

  1. Luis Portilla, Kalaivanan Loganathan, Hendrik Faber, Aline Eid, Jimmy GD Hester, Manos M. Tentzeris, Marco Fattori, Eugenio Cantatore, Chen Jiang, Arokia Nathan, Gianluca Fiori, Taofeeq Ibn-Mohammed, Thomas D. Anthopoulos, and Vincenzo Pecunia. Large-area, wirelessly powered electronics for the Internet of Things. Natural Electronics, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41928-022-00898-5

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