Powercast hits a milestone with its ground-breaking technology that uses RF over the air to power devices remotely, without the need for batteries and wires while increasing functionality and efficiency. The company has shipped 10 million wireless RF Powerharvester® PCC110 chips in the last two years alone which marks its success.
Dr Charles Greene, Chief Operating & Technical Officer, Powercast Corporation sheds light on RF wireless power and factors contributing to its high demand. He also explains how RF energy harvesting is revolutionizing the wireless transmission consumer electronics market, its economic benefits and how it contributes toward clean and sustainable energy.
Congratulations for the growing sales number!
Thank you very much. We are excited to see the market growing and more applications starting to utilize radio frequency (RF) wireless power delivered over the air.
How harvesting energy from radio waves works and what are its basic blocks?
There are two parts to harvesting any RF wave, a source (transmitter) and a receiver. The transmitter sends out a signal over the air at a specific frequency, which is picked up by the receiver’s antenna and our Powerharvester® PCC110 chip then converts that signal into direct current (DC) energy that can either power a battery-free device, or recharge a small battery.
Manufacturers embed Powercast’s tiny Powerharvester PCC110 chip in their devices, which can harvest RF energy sent from several sources, including Powercast’s dedicated Powercaster® and PowerSpot® RF transmitters, or from the industry-standard RFID readers that are widely used in retail, logistics and manufacturing environments.
What makes it the top-most choice over traditional energy harvesting?
Not exactly sure what you mean by traditional energy harvesting, but RF wireless power has a few advantages. First, our chip, the PCC110 is the most efficient RF-to-DC converter on the market. Secondly, it doesn’t require direct line of sight like solar, which means it can work through walls or inside a sealed enclosure. Finally, RF power is a one-to-many solution, which means that one transmitter can power multiple devices.
How is the company addressing challenges like low power levels, low RF-DC conversion efficiency, and broadband matching associated with RF energy harvesting?
Regarding low power levels:
Powercast has always been realistic about the amount of power that regulatory agencies will allow to be transmitted over the air, and hence has always targeted low-power devices, such as IoT sensors and low-power mobile and computer peripherals. Because small sensor/device deployments are growing rapidly, thousands of applications can now enjoy the benefits of over-the-air RF wireless charging, which creates untethered devices free from placement restrictions, wires, and the disposable batteries that litter landfills.
Regarding low RF-to-DC conversion efficiency:
Powercast’s PCC110 chip converts RF to DC energy at about 80% efficiency, the highest conversion efficiency of any chip on the market. Looking at total system efficiency, we like to stress looking at an application from a macro scale. For example, small sensors can use a portion of the one watt of RF sent from our transmitter to control much larger devices using kilowatts of energy, which in turn helps them become more efficient. This actually results in a net energy gain. Examples include HVAC and Lighting Control Systems.
Regarding broadband matching:
Powercast offers numerous reference designs in various frequency bands that allow customers to quickly get a design up and running. Our PCC110 chip supports 10MHz to 6GHz and our reference designs support one or more frequency bands depending on the application.
Can 5G technology increase the possibility of harvesting more energy?
Yes, we believe so. Here’s why. 5G networks will be deploying a larger number of radios that will generate more distributed RF coverage. Having more RF sources is always a good thing when it comes to harvesting from RF. 5G includes several frequency bands, and we are actively working on specific reference designs that will allow customers to leverage the 5G infrastructure.
What are the major industries benefiting from Powercast RF harvesting and target industries?
There are countless industries that can benefit from energy-efficient, RF-powered untethered devices freed from wires, battery e-waste, and placement restrictions.
Consumer electronics is a huge market; devices are getting smaller and use less power so they become a perfect application for over-the-air RF wireless power. Medical, automotive, agriculture, and industrial IoT are also areas that are trying to reduce wires and limit battery waste and need freedom of device placement.
Also consider the ways RF wireless power can help with the economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, from enhanced device functionality, to increased automation that could help alleviate the global labor shortage. Examples include:
- Medical and other devices with embedded RF power harvesting technology can be completely sealed and therefore waterproof, allowing easier cleaning.
- RF-powered wireless devices can use either rechargeable batteries, or no batteries at all, helping with the global labor shortage by removing the need to replace batteries.
- RF-powered wireless devices can automate certain functions to deal with staffing shortages. An example is robots fitted with RFID readers that can change prices on electronic shelf labels (ESLs) as the robots roam by them in a store, instead of an associate having to physically change paper price labels.
Additional practical applications include battery-free sensing in hazardous material chambers or storage containers where it’s dangerous for individuals to be, and vaccine temperature tracking using existing RFID equipment.
Kindly comment on the future of RF Energy Harvesting and what major milestone still to be achieved.
We are very excited about the future of wireless power, as we literally see it growing every day. As you know we shipped over 10 million Powerharvester chips in the last two years, and that should be an indication to the market that very soon consumers will be holding a product that is powered by RF wireless power and chances are it has a Powercast chip inside.
We believe we have competitively priced products already. That said, our next major milestone is to reduce the cost of our power transmitters even further so that they can become ubiquitous and become the standard for charging low-power wireless devices. With this goal in mind, we have increased our R&D department and are adding to our 77 issued patents. Powercast is determined to continue its leadership in the RF wireless power space with continued innovations and industry breakthroughs.
The general awareness of RF wireless power/wireless charging is increasing which is driving more applications. More applications bring a reduction in price points for components and that will open even more opportunities in the consumer electronics market.