Energy Harvesting Widens Wireless' Appeal

Developments in energy harvesting promise to banish battery issues.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Micropelt currently is working to finalize the product used in the field trials and is targeting commercial introduction in 2014, perhaps in conjunction with automation vendors.

In addition, the company has just started a new field trial using a different battery pack with an undisclosed chemical company in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Perpetua Power Source Technologies, Corvallis, Ore., has released the latest generation of its Power Puck thermoelectric products for use with wireless sensors (Figure 3).

The devices take advantage of the temperature difference between industrial equipment, e.g., steam pipes, pumps, motors and turbines, and ambient conditions to provide energy to wireless sensors. They have no moving parts, making them particularly suitable for harsh industrial environments, and can last for more than 15 years, claims the company.

Power Pucks have found a ready market with customers that experience high battery pain, whether due to maintenance costs, desire for faster update rates, or inconvenient and remote sensor locations, says Perpetua president Jon Hofmeister. "Power Pucks meet the most-demanding energy requirements with creative plug-and-play, easy-to-install products that deliver what chemical plants and other markets need for long-life power and increased update rates," he contends.

Hofmeister cites presentations at recent industry events where chemical companies such as Chemetall, El Dorado and BASF expressed a desire to explore alternative energy sources that could potentially eliminate reliance — and associated maintenance — on batteries.

One Perpetua customer uses Power Pucks for wireless temperature and pressure sensors placed on pumps in an area where security is high and access is limited. The 30°C temperature difference there generates 10 mW of power, completely eliminating batteries while delivering a 10-second update rate. Over a two-year period, this company reportedly has saved over $320,000 by better pump monitoring that headed off rebuilding eight pumps and by removing the need to bring service personnel into the secure area to replace batteries.

[Related: Plant of the Future: Whither Wireless?]

Another advantage with Power Pucks, says Hofmeister, is that installation is easy and takes only minutes using a patent-pending adaptor. And if the heat source is removed, a backup battery takes over power generation.

Meanwhile, ABB, St. Neots, U.K., has been conducting for more than a year a trial of wireless transmitters with on-board microthermoelectric generators at specialty chemicals manufacturer Robinson Brothers, West Bromwich, U.K.

The generators, which need a minimum temperature difference of 30°C to operate, are installed on steam pipes at the plant. The steam typically flows at around 106°C, with an ambient temperature of around 26°C. The installation was up and running in a couple of minutes and so far has not needed to make use of the backup battery, says an ABB spokesperson.

"It's something we'll be looking to do more of in future projects because there are terrific cabling costs involved in installing conventional instrumentation and the potential savings are obvious," comments Tom Rutter, Robinson's electrical and instrumentation manager.


Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can email him at


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