Design, simulation, fabrication, and characterization of MEMS vibration energy harvesters

Oxaal, John
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Borca-Tasçiuc, Diana-Andra
Hella, Mona Mostafa
Wen, John T.
Borca-Tasçiuc, Theodorian
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Mechanical engineering
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Energy harvesting from ambient sources has been a longtime goal for microsystem engineers. The energy available from ambient sources is substantial and could be used to power wireless micro devices, making them fully autonomous. Self-powered wireless sensors could have many applications in for autonomous monitoring of residential, commercial, industrial, geological, or biological environments. Ambient vibrations are of particular interest for energy harvesting as they are ubiquitous and have ample kinetic energy. In this work a MEMS device for vibration energy harvesting using a variable capacitor structure is presented. The nonlinear electromechanical dynamics of a gap-closing type structure is experimentally studied. Important experimental considerations such as the importance of reducing off-axis vibration during testing, characterization methods, dust contamination, and the effect of grounding on parasitic capacitance are discussed. A comprehensive physics based model is developed and validated with two different microfabricated devices. To achieve maximal power, devices with high aspect ratio electrodes and a novel two-level stopper system are designed and fabricated. The maximum achieved power from the MEMS device when driven by sinusoidal vibrations was 3.38 $\mu$W. Vibrations from HVAC air ducts, which have a primary frequency of 65 Hz and amplitude of 155 mg$_{rms}$, are targeted as the vibration source and devices are designed for maximal power harvesting potential at those conditions. Harvesting from the air ducts, the devices reached 118 nW of power. When normalized to the operating conditions, the best figure of merit of the devices tested was an order of magnitude above state-of-the-art of the devices (1.24E-6).
December 2015
School of Engineering
Dept. of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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