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A two year old San Francisco startup, Alphabet Energy, is commercializing an inexpensive waste heat recovery technology. Essentially, this form of energy harvesting implies thermoelectric energy. Alphabet differentiates by using an all-silicon approach to develop thermoelectric generators. Such an approach literally allows it to scale, piggybacking the semiconductor industry, much like the solar industry. This is a key factor as an investment prospect as scalability is often a requirement by venture capitalists.

With Alphabet’s approach going all silicon, this could open up a realm of opportunities in electronics world, particularly wireless sensor networking (WSN). Wireless sensors, a key enabling technology towards the vision of Internet of Things (IOT) and/or Machine to Machine (M2M) is hindered by power sources that could last over long period or even doing without a finite power source. If this approach takes traction, integration into wireless sensors could drive the market beyond what is forecasted.

Energy source in WSN has always been a challenge as WSN is typically deployed in environments that are not easily accessible due to a myriad of reasons such as safety and security issues. Current solutions to energy source conservation in WSN have been utilizing optimization techniques at every level of a WSN system. This includes design optimization at chip, module levels as well as running more efficient networking sequences in terms scheduling to keep WSN nodes in sleep mode as much as possible to conserve battery power.

For these reasons, true battery-free energy harvesting systems are not widespread, and ABI Research believes it will not be until they can meet applications’ power requirements 100% of the time and achieve volumes so their implementation is not cost-prohibitive compared to batteries.

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