Wed, Mar 18, 2015 - Page 4 News List

NARL unveils 3D solar chip for IoT

WASTE NOT:With a lifespan of 10 to 20 years, the chip can reduce the need for changing batteries, offering a more eco-friendly solution than conventional cells

By Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter

The National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) yesterday unveiled a compact three-dimensional integrated circuit (3D IC) that functions as a solar cell, which researchers said can be used in a wide range of applications for the Internet of Things.

The next-generation chip differs from conventional ones in that it is built in layers, rather than having different parts assembled laterally, transforming the structure of integrated circuits from 2D into 3D, project leader Shen Chang-hung (沈昌宏) said.

The design reduces the length of a conduit electric currents must travel by 1,000 times, from millimeters to micrometers, thereby minimizing attenuation, Shen said.

Comprising two circuits and a thin silicon dioxide film for photovoltaic energy harvesting, the chip is capable of storing photovoltaic energy it absorbs from the environments in which it is employed, which can then be used to power electronic devices such as watches, smoke detectors, brain wave meters and glass break meters, he said.

It also opens up possibilities for applications in the Internet of things, he said.

It can be installed on building facades to power air quality monitors, or bridges or reservoirs to test the structures’ seismic response, he said.

Other possible applications include installing the chip in wearable devices to monitor people’s biometric data or on vehicles of food companies to ensure the freshness of foods during delivery, he said.

The chip measures less than 1cm3 and can generate up to 1 volt, and more layers can be added to power devices that command higher outputs, with each additional layer providing 0.5 more volts while adding just 0.5 microns to the chips’ thickness.

With an estimated lifespan of 10 to 20 years, it greatly reduces the need for changing batteries, making it more eco-friendly than conventional cells, Shen said.

Asked what advantage the device has over its Chinese-made counterparts, Shen said that Taiwanese chips are more compact.

Furthermore, the NARL was the first institute in the world to successfully integrate IC with thin film photovoltaic cells, and the invention is currently under review for a patent, he added.

The NARL is in talks with local manufacturers to discuss possibilities for collaboration, he added.

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