Many businesses and everyday life are expected to be significantly impacted by the IoT. It links and enables data interchange across many smart objects of all sizes and shapes, including temperature-controlled manufacturing equipment, self-driving vehicles, wirelessly controlled home security systems, as well as other sensing and communications networks like the internet.

This expanding hypernetwork is expected to reach trillions of devices by the end of the decade, increasing the number of sensor nodes deployed in its platforms.

Current methods for powering sensor nodes depend on battery technology, but batteries must be replaced on a regular basis, which is expensive and ecologically harmful over time. Additionally, it’s possible that the existing worldwide output of lithium for battery materials won’t be able to meet the rising energy needs caused by the expanding number of sensors.

An international team led by KAUST says that new thin-film device technologies that use alternative semiconductor materials, such as printable organics, nanocarbon allotropes, and metal oxides, could help make the Internet of Things (IoT) more economically and environmentally sustainable.

By using so-called energy harvesters, such as solar cells and radio-frequency (RF) energy harvesters, among other technologies, wirelessly powered sensor nodes might contribute to the development of a sustainable IoT. Large-area electronics could be a key part of making these types of power sources possible.

With the help of Thomas Anthopoulos and colleagues, KAUST alumnus Kalaivanan Loganathan evaluated the practicality of several large-area electrical technologies and their potential to produce environmentally friendly, wirelessly powered IoT sensors.

Due to substantial advancements in solution-based processing, which have made it simpler to print devices and circuits on flexible, large-area substrates, large-area electronics have lately become an attractive alternative to traditional silicon-based technology. They are more environmentally friendly than their silicon-based equivalents since they can be made at low temperatures and on biodegradable materials like paper.

A variety of RF electronic components, including metal-oxide and organic polymer-based Schottky diodes, have been created throughout time by Anthopoulos’ team. According to Loganathan, 

“These devices are crucial components in wireless energy harvesters and ultimately dictate the performance and cost of the sensor nodes,” Loganathan adds.

Important contributions from the KAUST team include scalable technologies for producing RF diodes that can collect energy in the 5G/6G frequency band. 

“Such technologies provide the needed building blocks toward a more sustainable way to power the billions of sensor nodes in the near future,” Anthopoulos adds.

In order to demonstrate the full potential of these low-power devices, the team is looking at their monolithic integration with antenna and sensors, Loganathan says.

Source: 10.1038/s41928-022-00898-5

Image Credit: Getty


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