Low-power Power Management Circuit Design for Small Scale Energy Harvesting Using Piezoelectric Cantilevers

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Virginia Tech

The batteries used to power wireless sensor nodes have become a major roadblock for the wide deployment. Harvesting energy from mechanical vibrations using piezoelectric cantilevers provides possible means to recharge the batteries or eliminate them. Raw power harvested from ambient sources should be conditioned and regulated to a desired voltage level before its application to electronic devices. The efficiency and self-powered operation of a power conditioning and management circuit is a key design issue.

In this research, we investigate the characteristics of piezoelectric cantilevers and requirements of power conditioning and management circuits. A two-stage conditioning circuit with a rectifier and a DC-DC converter is proposed to match the source impedance dynamically. Several low-power design methods are proposed to reduce power consumption of the circuit including: (i) use of a discontinuous conduction mode (DCM) flyback converter, (ii) constant on-time modulation, and (iii) control of the clock frequency of a microcontroller unit (MCU). The DCM flyback converter behaves as a lossless resistor to match the source impedance for maximum power point tracking (MPPT). The constant on-time modulation lowers the clock frequency of the MCU by more than an order of magnitude, which reduces dynamic power dissipation of the MCU. MPPT is executed by the MCU at intermittent time interval to save power. Experimental results indicate that the proposed system harvests up to 8.4 mW of power under 0.5-g base acceleration using four parallel piezoelectric cantilevers and achieves 72 percent power efficiency. Sources of power losses in the system are analyzed. The diode and the controller (specifically the MCU) are the two major sources for the power loss.

In order to further improve the power efficiency, the power conditioning circuit is implemented in a monolithic IC using 0.18-μ­m CMOS process. Synchronous rectifiers instead of diodes are used to reduce the conduction loss. A mixed-signal control circuit is adopted to replace the MCU to realize the MPPT function. Simulation and experimental results verify the DCM operation of the power stage and function of the MPPT circuit. The power consumption of the mixed-signal control circuit is reduced to 16 percent of that of the MCU.

Impedance Matching, DC-DC Converter, Piezoelectric Cantilevers, Power Management, Energy harvesting