Microchips that ‘harvest’ their own energy

20 Jan 2011

A research team based in the Netherlands and China has succeeded in making a microchip that has an efficient solar cell placed on top of the microelectronics, meaning the chip does not need batteries or mains electricity.

The researchers who pioneered this revolutionary new microchip hail from the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology in the Netherlands. They teamed up with colleagues from Nankai University in Tianjin, China, and the Debye Institute of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The research team says this new microchip development means that a sensor chip can be produced, complete with the necessary intelligence and even an antenna for wireless communication. However, the chip’s energy use must be well below 1 milliwatt. The chip can then even collect enough energy to operate indoors.

While the team says the simplest solution would appear to be to manufacture the solar cell separately and then fit it on top of the electronics, they say this proved not to be the most efficient production process. So, instead they have used the chip as a base and applied the solar cell to it layer by layer.

The team used solar cells made of amorphous silicon or CIGS (copper – indium – gallium – selenide). The manufacturing procedure for these cells does not influence the electronics, and these types of solar cells also produce sufficient power, even in low light, the team says.

In early December, the researchers presented their findings at the International Electron Device Meeting in San Francisco.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic