Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Solar Cells Integrated Into Microchips

What would be better than very low power chips that allow you to have hours and hours of battery life? How about chips that don’t even need a battery, instead generating their own solar power to run off indefinitely?

That’s what researchers in the Semiconductor Components group at the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology are working on. Working with Nankai University in China and Utrecht University, they plan to achieve it by adding photovoltaic cells directly to the top of microchips allowing them to function as a standalone unit without the need for an external power source like a battery.

The solar cells being used are manufactured from amorphous silicon or CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) so they can be created separately from the chip and then added as layers on top. This cuts down on problems seen trying to manufacture both together.

The good news is the solar-powered chips generate energy even when not in direct sunlight. The bad news is the energy generation is limited, meaning only chips that require less than 1 milliwatt can take advantage of it at the moment.

Although limited, it does make for a viable solution when trying to install sensors in locations that have no access to a reliable power source. With this autonomous microsystem in place no power is ever required other than sunlight.


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