Wiliot harvests energy to make beacons without batteries

The Wiliot tag is small, but contains many components.

A few weeks ago I harped on the lack of new energy harvesting technologies because I am a big believer that having to change batteries or hard-wire every connected sensor out there will severely limit the spread of the internet of things. So I was so excited to learn about Wiliot, an Israeli company that is building location beacons that don’t require a battery.

Wiliot is a semiconductor company that harvests energy from wireless signals to power a Bluetooth tag. The tag contains a Bluetooth radio, a tiny brain (it’s an ARM M-0 processor) and sensors. The entire package should cost less than a $ 1 and find its way into physical goods so they can be tracked or so people can interact with them.

The startup was formed in January and has since raised $ 19 million from investors that include Qualcomm and Merck. Steve Statler, VP of marketing and business development at Wiliot, says the company has signed pilot projects with companies in the asset tracking and packaged goods sector to test the tag in the second half of next year. The actual tag will be available in 2019.

This is a long-term bet on passive Bluetooth as a replacement for RFID or as a new way to connect products to consumers. In a manufacturing setting, companies currently use RFID to scan parts or materials at various points in the manufacturing process so the plant managers know how production is going. With passive Bluetooth tags, each product could communicate with a hub on the floor to broadcast its location and state.

Statler says he’s working with an automotive parts company to implement such a project. These passive Bluetooth tags would also be handy in hospitals where companies like Cassia are trying to use Bluetooth beacons to track important (and expensive) equipment. Use of the tags replaces battery-powered beacons that cost more and require someone to change the batteries.

In packaged goods, the big opportunity is in connecting consumers with product companies and assuring that a particular product is authentic. Statler expects lower-cost passive Bluetooth tags could be embedded in products like the lid on your prescription drug bottle or even your expensive anti-aging cream the data from that tag communicates its authenticity to an app. In medicine it could also be used to determine if a person is adhering to the drug regime.

For consumer packaged goods, the Bluetooth sensor tag might convey information to the product maker about how often someone uses the product, if it is being stored properly and even let them know if it is about to run out. As a consumer I’m somewhat creeped out about my mascara telling Clinique to ramp up production because my tube is almost empty, but I can see why it would be exciting to companies. And I would like to know if my expensive skin products were exposed to formula-ruining heat or were counterfeit.

The competition to Wiliot in these use cases are RFID tags, QR Codes (on packages goods) or high cost of anti-counterfeiting devices.

Wiliot is not the only company trying to break through with wireless energy harvesting or some kind of passive “smart tag.”  Psikick is another such company building energy harvesting radios and sensors. Neither of these companies are using wireless power, which is actually a different type of wireless energy harvesting that requires a greater power output.

So Wiliot isn’t alone in its effort, and we won’t see a sensor tag until 2019 for general use, but it’s certainly a product that brings the internet of things to humdrum reality.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Thin film batteries set for solid (state) growth

Thin film batteries set for solid (state) growth

Smaller, lighter and with no risk of leakages or explosions, thin film batteries based on solid state components are increasingly important to low-power IoT devices. 

Thin film batteries power a whole bunch of ‘things’ in the IoT, including smart cards, wireless microsensors, RFID tags, toys and medical patches.

These batteries are typically built by depositing the components of the battery as thin films on a substrate – hence the name.

Because these components take the form of solid state materials, there’s none of the risk of leakages or explosions sometimes associated with other kinds of batteries. Think, for example, of batteries in the Samsung 7 smartphone, subject to a massive recall last year.

Read more: Brunel scientists develop flexible, wearable 3D-printed battery

Growing demand

Thin film batteries are popular with smart device manufacturers because they’re small and light, which makes them ideal for low-power applications – and demand for them is growing accordingly, according to a report published this week by Grand View Research.

Analysts at the firm reckon that the global thin film battery market will reach $ 1.72 billion by 2025, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 27 percent from 2017 onwards, due in part to rapid adoption of wearables, a prime candidate for this kind of technology.

Sales of thin film batteries for wearables alone, for example, are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 29 percent between 2017 and 2025. Other key sectors include smart cards and healthcare devices, which will collectively account for 29% of the market by 2025.

“Increasing demand for thin film batteries to power compact devices, coupled with improved safety, is a major driving factor for industry growth in wearables and medical applications,” say Grand View’s analysts.

As with many other battery technologies, miniaturization is a key theme here: most manufacturers are working on sub 1.5-volt thin film batteries for various applications. So is extending battery life. Key manufacturers in this market include Blue Spark Technologies, BrightVolt, Enfucell, ST Microelectronics, Cymbet, Imprint Energy, Ilika and LG Chem.

Read more: Metals shortages pose little risk to future battery production, MIT finds

Plenty of interest

There’s a great deal of interest around this area and many new kinds of thin film, solid state batteries look set to emerge. In October 2015, for example, UK-based consumer appliance company Dyson spent $ 90 million on acquiring Sakti3, a US-based start-up specializing in battery technology.

Sakti3 founder Anne Marie Sastry, now working at Dyson, has pioneered the development of Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries that replace liquid electrolytes with thin films of solid-state material, to improve the energy density of a battery by two to three times.

Given James Dyson’s publicly stated ambitions in the clean automobile space, it’s likely that having a battery technology heavy-hitter like Sastry on board will be a major boost.

Our Battery and Energy Storage Show event is fast approaching. This will be held at The Slate at Warwick University campus on 28 & 29 November 2017. We hope you’ll join us there to look at this important subject in more depth – but in the meantime, here are some recent examples of our coverage in this area.

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Actility Smart Energy solution harnesses Orange batteries to secure France’s electricity grid

Actility Smart Energy solution harnesses Orange batteries to secure France’s electricity grid

French consumers and industry have been protected from power outages on several occasions this winter by Actility’s Smart Grid technology exploiting the capacity of thousands of batteries at Orange locations across France to mitigate the effects of high demand peaks and associated power surges.

Actility has been working with Orange, RTE, the largest Transmission System Operator (TSO) in Europe, and Enedis, the largest French Distribution System Operator, to provide and activate a “clean demand response” capability in response to spikes in energy demand.

The system has been called into action several times already, achieving a temporary demand reduction of 10MW initially, and more recently reaching 15MW.

Actility CTO Olivier Hersent, comments:

“These successful interventions on over 7000 sites in a matter of minutes, clearly demonstrate the power of a Smart Grid enabled by the intelligence of the IoT to enhance the capabilities and resilience of the electricity transmission system and to protect its customers.”

“We’re also creating a new opportunity for Orange to create value from its back-up capacity, which is normally a rarely-used ‘insurance policy’.”

“To prepare tomorrow’s grid, combining electricity and digital, RTE is developing innovative market mechanisms,” says RTE’s Sales Manager for Market Services, Laurent Lamy. “The aim is to enlarge the scope of solutions that could provide balancing services. The use of these existing batteries is one good example of new type of flexibility having a positive impact on power system balance. We are satisfied that our clients take all business opportunities from services developed in France”.

“At Enedis, as a DSO, we are committed to facilitating market participation of distributed energy resources and we are pleased to enable this Actility and Orange initiative that illustrates the evolution of the energy system: decentralized and customer-centred”, says Emmanuel Husson, Director of Customers and Markets at Enedis. “At the intersection of digitalization and the electricity system, such smart grid innovation will be fostered by the ongoing roll out of smart metering, and new business models will be triggered, relying on consumer empowerment and new technologies.”

Orange has over 7000 fixed telephone relay stations and broadband internet routing sites which are essential to the operation of the company’s networks. Sustained operations are guaranteed during power outages, thanks to a high-capacity array of small back-up batteries installed at each site. The battery stores sufficient energy to keep the site operational for an extended period without external power supply. RTE, the French TSO, sends load curtailment requests to Actility in case of unexpected demand surges. Actility’s Smart Grid application translates those requests into control requests to the Orange sites. The local energy management systems switch over from distribution grid supply to using a maximum of 50% of the energy stored in the battery, maintaining the resilience of the site. The system responds within 9 minutes and supports the grid for up to one hour, and the process can be repeated if required.

To track possible impact on battery lifetime cost-effectively, Actility concentrates on the monitoring only a few parameters of the battery behaviour. Using dedicated algorithms, Actility could prove the accuracy and reliability of impact tracking across multiple sites, preventing the need to install dedicated hardware. Given the vast number of sites involved, this significantly reduced implementation and run costs.

“We’re dealing with thousands of essential sites, so we can’t afford any mistakes,” comments Cedric De Jonghe, Manager of Actility’s Energy Business Unit. “We have to take all of Orange’s constraints into account in real time, including the fact that some sites may not be available to us. What’s particularly interesting about this project is that instead of starting a diesel generator, we are switching to batteries, a “green curtailment” which of course is much better in times of climate change and a new awareness of the impact of pollution.”

“We would like to welcome Actility’s initiative for its pioneering activity in Europe, which places France to the forefront of distributed energy resources management and energy storage innovation worldwide”, adds Cedric Thoma, responsible for smart grids, hydrogen and energy storage with the French Energy Ministry.

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Powervault to give electric car batteries a second life in smart homes

Powervault to give electric car batteries a second life in smart homes

Automaker Renault is partnering with UK-based smart home energy storage specialist Powervault in a deal that will see batteries previously used to power electric vehicles (EVs) redeployed to store solar power in homes.

Renault is Europe’s number one EV manufacturer: sales of the Renault Zoe in Europe grew 15 percent in 2016 to 21,240 units, ahead of the Nissan Leaf (18,310 units sold) and the Tesla S Model (11,564 units).

Powervault, meanwhile, has developed a smart home battery system that enables homeowners to store energy from their own solar panels but can also automatically store using low-cost, off-peak energy from the grid. This combination, the company claims, can save homeowners up to 35 percent on their electricity bills.

Read more: Tryst proposes solar energy as battery replacement for IoT devices

Second life

The batteries used in EVs typically have a lifetime of around eight to 10 years, but once retired from vehicular use, can still be used in stationary applications – such as home energy storage, for example. In this way, they become what is known as ‘second life’ batteries.

According to Nicolas Schottey, program director of EV batteries and infrastructures at Renault, they could have as much as another 10 years of additional useful life in a Powervault system. These second life battery packs, he explained, are removed from vehicles, unpacked and graded before Powervault make them into smaller battery packs for their own devices.

The partnership with Renault, according to Powervault, will reduce the cost of one of its smart battery units significantly. For example, a brand-new 2kWh (kilowatt-hour) Lithium-ion Powervault typically costs customers around £4,000 – but if second-life batteries are used, the price drops to £3,000.

Powervault is placing 50 trial units, powered by second-life batteries provided by Renault, in the homes selected customers of M&S Energy (part of high-street retailer Marks & Spencer), as well as social housing tenants and schools.

The company says the trial will explore the technical performance of second life batteries, as well as customer reaction to home energy storage to help develop a roll-out strategy for the mass market.

Read more: Energy: How ENEL is using IoT to embrace the ‘energy revolution’

Powervault welcomes household names

“The collaboration we are announcing today with these two household name brands – Renault and M&S – is an important milestone on our journey towards achieving mainstream adoption of home energy storage. Homeowners and brands are now looking to benefit from the smart power revolution,” said Joe Warren, managing director of Powervault.

He added that “it’s only a matter of time” before a Powervault becomes as common in UK households “as a dishwasher” – although this seems rather more unlikely. The return on investment figures look good, certainly, especially as utility bills continue to rise, but plenty of UK households would need significant assistance to shoulder the initial outlay for photovoltaic (PV) panels and Powervaults.

That said, there’s already a significant installed base of PV panels for Powervault to tap: some 850,000 units were installed by households in the UK between 2010 and 2015, according to figures from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The Powervault second life trial will start in July 2017 and last 12 months.

In the meantime, Internet of Business will be holding its Battery and Energy Storage Show in Birmingham on 28 & 29 November 2017.

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