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When it comes to sustainability, IoT is in many respects, a contradiction. We create connected appliances and equipment that use sensors and predictive analytics to identify device abnormalities, resulting in repairs rather than replacements and an overall longer lifespan. It can save a huge amount of energy through increasing efficiency in processes such as waste maintenance and waste management. But we also need to grapple with problems like e-waste, hard to recycle materials, and the environmental impact of creating more stuff.
Take batteries. Battery innovation has been in the news all year due to the silicon semiconductor chip storage and supply chain woes that have plagued all connected industries. Batteries are primarily made from mined substances with a problematic pedigree and resource-intensive extraction. In turn, these materials can be hard to recycle.
Imagine you deploy 10,000 Industrial IoT devices across your factory. Sensors are strategically placed to transmit real-time data about the health and performance of your machines and equipment, temperature, air quality, and other analytics.
If these batteries were to last five years, you would be replacing roughly 2,000 batteries each year. Or about five every day, a process that is not only expensive depending on the kind of device, but potentially hazardous when trying to access a remote sensor to change a battery.
But what if we didn’t need to use a battery in the first place or could reduce their use to the most mission-critical applications? One company working o this is Everactive. They have created self-powered sensors that run indefinitely by harvesting energy from their immediate environment, removing the need for batteries.
Everactive’s systems harvest energy from many environmental sources—including low-level indoor solar (and, of course, outdoor solar). Energy comes from the thermoelectric effect (capturing ambient energy generated wherever there is a temperature gradient) and through the vibration of piezoelectric materials (such as certain crystals and ceramics). Energy even comes from radio waves traveling through the environment.
Image source: Eversensor
Each Eversensor can collect an array of data using multiple sensors and process, analyze, and transmit that data wirelessly—all on the same batteryless power budget. There is no need to inspect them for maintenance or a battery-level check physically. An example of a use case is placing the Eversensors in steam traps to gather data through temperature changes.
Another option is the use of self-powered chips. Wiliot is an IoT company that develops self-powered stamp-sized computers that can be attached to products and packaging to sense a range of data, including location, temperature, humidity, motion, and more.
At the core of the Wiliot IoT Pixel is a chip: a Bluetooth® Low Energy Wireless Micro Controller Unit (MCU) that offers the ability to sense, compute and communicate. It includes a self-power management unit, several sensor interfaces, a security engine, and non-volatile memory for programming and configuration. It’s battery-free and powered by harvesting radiofrequency energy from its surroundings and nano-Watt computing operations.
In real-time, IoT Pixels securely communicate the information to the Wiliot Cloud, which can be accessed and analyzed by brands, and manufacturers. Its an interesting way to bring efficiency, safety, and sustainability to the entire supply chain, from packaging to shipping, to delivery.
Creating what they call “wireless charging 2.0”, Energous has created WattUp technology. This enables devices to be charged wirelessly over the air, delivering a continuous and uninterrupted supply of power, removing the need for charging cables and ports or disposable batteries that stress the environment.
WattUp PowerBridge transmitters from Energous send power to and can act as a data link for connected IoT devices such as sensors, Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs), trackers, IoT tags, batteryless devices, and more. Multiple WattUp PowerBridge transmitters can be meshed together to create a WattUp wireless power network covering unlimited distances for large footprint deployments such as retail stores, industrial warehouses, manufacturing plants, logistics hubs, and more.
The WattUp wireless power network provides consistent power levels for IoT devices while eliminating the costly need to manage and change out batteries or rely on restrictive wires and cables. This innovation ushers in a new reality of mobile, waterproof, smaller, maintenance-free, and easier-to-implement devices. Examples of use industrial use cases include remote controls, asset tracking, locks, and access sensors, motion detections, environmental sensors, and pallet tracking.
Sustainability in industrial IoT is a complex challenge that requires a layered long-term solution, that looks at ways to increase our efficiencies and reduce our impact on the environment. But technology is forever evolving and innovating, and the more we support this, the more sustainable materials and solutions come to market.
Anthony Sayers, Director of IoT Ecosystems & Partners, Davra
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