Self-powered, printable smart sensors could mean a cheaper, greener Internet of Things

Creating smart sensors for the Internet of Things (IoT) to embed in our everyday objects and environments can improve everyday life, but requires trillions of such tiny devices.

The increasing number of sensor nodes used in IoT poses a technological challenge. The economic and sustainability issues of battery-powered devices mean that there will be a need for cordless operation along with environmentally friendly circuit technologies.

It can provide a wide range of electronics solutions based on organic semiconductors, amorphous metal oxide semiconductors, semiconducting carbon nanotubes and two-dimensional semiconductors.

Simon Fraser University (SFU) professor Vincenzo Pecunia believes alternative semiconductors that are printable, cheap and environmentally friendly could pave the way for a cheaper and more sustainable IoT.

Leading a multinational team of experts in various fields of printable electronics from SFU’s Canadian campus, Pecunia has identified key priorities and promising avenues for printable electronics to enable self-powered, eco-friendly smart sensors.

“Equipping everyday objects and environments with intelligence through smart sensors will allow us to make more informed decisions in our daily lives,” said Pecunia. “Conventional semiconductor technologies require complex, energy-intensive and expensive processing, but printable semiconductors can provide electronics with a lower carbon footprint and cost because they can be processed by printing or coating, which requires less energy and material consumption.”

Pecunia says that making printable electronics that can run using energy harvested from the environment, such as ambient light or ubiquitous radio frequency signals, may be the answer.

“Our analysis shows that the main priority is to simplify the manufacturing process of printable electronics with as small a set of materials as possible, thus ensuring simple scaling and low cost of the technology,” said Pecunia. The research paper describes a vision of printed electronics that can be ubiquitously powered by cellular signals through innovative low-power approaches, essentially enabling smart sensors to be recharged over the air.

“Based on recent advances, we expect that printable semiconductors can play a key role in realizing the full sustainability potential of the Internet of Things by providing autonomous sensors for smart homes, smart buildings and smart cities, as well as for manufacturing and industry. “he added.

Pecunia has made numerous advances in self-powered printable smart sensors, demonstrating printed electronics with record low power consumption and the first printable devices powered by ambient light via tiny printable solar cells.

A research group in SFU’s School of Sustainable Energy Engineering is focused on developing innovative approaches for eco-friendly, printable solar cells and electronics for use in the next generation of smart devices.

Pecunia noted that the semiconductor technologies developed by his group could potentially enable seamless integration of electronics, sensors and energy harvesters at the touch of a “print” button in single manufacturing sites, thereby reducing carbon footprints, supply chain issues and energy costs. associated with long-distance transport in conventional electronics manufacturing.

“Printable semiconductors are also a unique opportunity for Canada because of their unique manufacturability,” he said. “Not only to become a global player in next-generation, eco-friendly electronics, but also to overcome our dependence on electronics from faraway countries and the associated supply chain and geo-political challenges.

“We hope these semiconductors will provide environmentally friendly technologies for a future of clean energy production and sustainable living that are key to achieving Canada’s net zero goal.”

A research paper titled “Wireless Powered Wide Area Electronics for the Internet of Things” has been published in the journal. Nature Electronics.

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