Power Electronics
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Data Points

Chipmaker and University Develop Energy-Efficient Microchip

Researchers at MIT and Texas Instruments (TI) have unveiled a new chip design for portable electronics that can be up to 10 times more energy efficient than present technology. The design could lead to cell phones, implantable medical devices and sensors that last far longer when running from a battery. The design was presented Feb. 5 at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco by Joyce Kwong, a graduate student in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).

Kwong carried out the project with MIT colleagues Prof. Anantha Chandrakasan, who is the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering, and EECS graduate students Yogesh Ramadass and Naveen Verma. Their TI colleagues are Markus Koesler, Korbinian Huber and Hans Moormann. The team demonstrated the ultralow power-design techniques on TI's MSP430, a widely used microcontroller. The work was conducted at the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories, which Chandrakasan directs. The research was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The key to the improvement in energy efficiency was to find ways of making the circuits on the chip work at a voltage level much lower than usual, Chandrakasan explains. While most current chips operate at around 1 V, the new design works at just 0.3 V.

“Memory and logic circuits have to be redesigned to operate at very low power-supply voltages,” Chandrakasan says.

One key to the new design, Chandrakasan says, was to build a dc-dc converter — which reduces the voltage to the lower level — right onto the same chip, which is more efficient than having the converter as a separate component. The redesigned memory and logic, along with the dc-dc converter, are all integrated to realize a complete system-on-a-chip solution.

One of the biggest problems the team had to overcome was the variability that occurs in typical chip manufacturing. At lower voltage levels, variations and imperfections in the silicon chip become more problematic. “Designing the chip to minimize its vulnerability to such variations is a big part of our strategy,” Chandrakasan says.

So far the new chip is a proof of concept. Commercial applications could become available “in five years in a number of exciting areas,” Chandrakasan notes. For example, portable and implantable medical devices, portable communications devices and networking devices could be based on such chips, and thus have greatly increased operating times. There may also be a variety of military applications in the production of tiny, self-contained sensor networks that could be dispersed in a battlefield.

In some applications, such as implantable medical devices, Chandrakasan says that the goal is to make the power requirements so low that they could be powered by “ambient energy” — using the body's own heat or movement to provide all the needed power. In addition, the technology could be suitable for body-area networks or wirelessly enabled body-sensor networks.

For more information, see www.ti.com.

Electric Energy Storage Market to Grow to $3.8 Billion by 2013

The global market for electric energy storage (EES) is expected to be worth $2.6 billion this year and more than $3.8 billion by 2013, according to a recent report by BCC Research. That would be a compound average annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8%, says the Wellesley, Mass. market research firm.

The report “Utility Power Storage Technology” breaks the market down into EES core applications and the power conversion systems that are needed to control and interface these technologies with the power grid. BCC Research predicts that the EES core technologies segment will grow to $1.9 billion in 2008 and reach $2.7 billion by 2013, a CAGR of 7.6%.

The EES core storage technologies of pumped hydro storage, compressed air energy storage, lead-acid batteries, sodium-sulfur batteries, vanadium redox flow batteries, flywheels, superconducting magnetic energy storage and supercapacitors are positioned to make a significant impact over the next five years, according to the report.

These technologies can be deployed in various applications along the power chain, including use in bulk generation, transmission and distribution, as well as providing enhanced services for the end user.

BCC Research predicts that total revenue for EES power-conversion systems will reach $711 million this year and rise at a CAGR of 8.9%, to reach $1.1 billion by 2013.

Voltage Regulation Market Weakened in 2007

IMS Research reports that the global market for voltage regulator ICs grew by 5% in 2007, reaching more than $7 billion in revenue. Following a period of prolonged high growth, the nonisolated regulator market weakened in 2007, according to the Wellingborough, U.K.-based marketing firm. However, the market for isolated voltage regulators continued to perform well, fueled by demand for highly efficient controllers for ac-dc power supplies, says IMS.

IMS defines nonisolated regulators as including nonisolated switching regulators and controllers, linear or low dropout regulators and also some power management units. In the isolated category, IMS counts isolated switching controllers, dc-dc regulators and ac-dc regulators.

Despite the relatively low growth seen in the voltage regulation market last year, some pockets of high growth were apparent.

“It is clear that the voltage regulation market weakened in 2007, partly due to inventory correction; however, some applications, such as notebook PCs and high-end consumer equipment bucked this trend,” comments IMS Research Director Ash Sharma.

“Vendors are hoping for a much stronger 2008, but whilst the long-term drivers for power management remain favorable, short-term spending in the consumer and computing sectors looks uncertain due to the current economic climate” Sharma adds.

For more information, see www.imsresearch.com.

EES system components 2006 2007 2008 2013 CAGR (%) 2008-2013
EES core technologies 1545 1699 1868 2692 7.6
EES power-conversion systems 584 644 711 1091 8.9
Totals 2129 2343 2579 3783 8
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