1. What is MicroGen Systems?
Based in Ithaca at the Cornell Business and Technology Park, the technology company MicroGen Systems
(Microgen) is developing a global, scalable, green, renewable energy power source. Whereas traditional batteries possess numerous limitations that hamper the capabilities of wireless sensor systems or networks (WSS/WSN), including the high maintenance cost of replacement, MicroGen’s patent-pending innovation makes it possible for the device to harness energy from ambient vibrations as a way to self-charge and store that energy. With this innovation, the energy can be consumed for an estimated 20 years or more. By significantly reducing the cost of deploying and maintaining WSS/WSNs, these products provide a viable solution for the WSS/WSN market.
Traditional batteries possess numerous limitations that hamper the capabilities of wireless sensor systems or networks (WSS/WSN), including the high maintenance cost of replacement. MicroGen’s innovation is based on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) microfabrication and packaging techniques (similar to fabricating high-volume computer chips). MicroGen's piezoelectric vibrational energy harvesters (PZEH) are micro-power generators capable of extending the lifetime of rechargeable batteries or eliminating them completely. MicroGen’s patent-pending innovation makes it possible for the device to harness energy from ambient vibrations as a way to self-charge and store that energy. With this innovation, the energy can be consumed for an estimated 20 years or more. By significantly reducing the cost of deploying and maintaining WSS/WSNs, these products provide a viable solution for the WSS/WSN market.
More specifically, MicroGen's BOLT™ Power-Chip family of products will eliminate or extend the lifetime of rechargeable batteries in low-power autonomous non-wireless electronics/sensors, and WSS/WSN nodes or "motes". WSS/WSN applications include smart energy (e.g., building lighting control, preventive maintenance of electrical motors, monitoring energy efficiency of computer data centers), smart infrastructure (e.g., monitoring structural integrity of bridges, dams), smart transportation (e.g., aircraft and train vibration sensors; automobile airbag sensors and tire-pressure-monitoring-systems), defense/homeland security (e.g., asset tracking) applications, and many others.
2. How was this technology developed? How is it funded?
MicroGen Systems is a spinout of The University of Vermont
(UVM), and its product is being developed at the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Center (CNF; www.cnf.cornell.edu). The technology is funded partly by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) with a $619,000 ($300,000 from NYSERDA, and $319,000 in cost-sharing) contract. In addition, the company has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cornell's Energy Materials Center (EMC2; www.emc2.cornell.edu), where the funding comes from the EMC2's role in the Center for Future Energy Systems funded by the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR). ECM2 has and will continue to provide financial and development assistance to MicroGen.
3. What partnerships have been formed to bring this technology to market?
MicroGen has produced several series of prototypes in Central and Western New York with the latest coming from work done at the CNF. Series 3 prototypes are near completion, leading to availability later this year and into early 2011.
The CNF, a member of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, is supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant ECS-0335765).
In addition, several New York State and central NY agencies have provided assistance, including NYSTAR, through the EMC2 at Cornell, the Clean Tech Center as part of CEO in Central NY, and NYSERDA as well. Commercially, MicroGen is working with several thin-film battery developers, and wireless sensor network companies.
4. What were some reasons for moving to NY State from Vermont?
In March 2007, MicroGen/Andosca was hired as a consulting firm/consultant at the Infotonics Technology Center (ITC; www.itcmems.com) in Canandaigua, NY. Later in 2008, Andosca was hired as a part-time Program Manager / Senior MEMS scientist running the same program through late 2009. Through MicroGen, Andosca managed ITC's Army Research Laboratory (ARL) federal program funded in part to develop a MEMS-based PZEH.
UVM in Burlington, Vermont was the location of Andosca's Ph D. work on the same subject. MicroGen was moved from Vermont to New York State in February 2008. Afterwards, three (3) successful GEN01 designed prototypes were fabricated and tested at ITC in 2009. Each had progressively better yield, voltage and power output. The test data was successfully correlated back to Andosca's theoretical work for his Ph.D.
In October 2009, when the ITC/ARL program was completed, MicroGen moved its development and headquarters to Ithaca, New York. Cornell's prestigious CNF with its very experienced staff of engineers/scientists, and large and diverse set of microfabrication equipment is the major reason to continue here in NY State. As of September 2010, MicroGen's GEN02 devices have completed 90% of fabrication development. It is initially expected to obtain a minimum of 50 μWatts/cm2 (die area), and quickly be doubled with other slight systematic changes to the design. Testing of MicroGen's GEN02 devices are scheduled to begin in October 2010.
MicroGen's micro-power generators can be integrated with an advanced thin-film battery company's energy harvesting electronics board, which is also integrated with a Texas Instruments radio. Power levels of 100 μWatts can enable these self-powered WS units to transmit a wireless signal every 20-30 seconds (duty cycle). Duty cycles (DCs) of 20-30 seconds in the commercial world are short, where typical DCs are on the order of minutes to hours. So 100 μWatts is seen as an upper bound, and will satisfy most commercial applications. Due to the convergence of low-power electronics, low-power wireless radios, low-power sensors and advanced thin-film batteries (power storage), this upper bound is expected to continue to drop as it has since the first transistor and integrated circuit were developed. This will allow MicroGen to build smaller, even more cost-effective micro-chips/power generator products over the next decade, and longer.
5. What is the current status of the company?
MicroGen is close to being able to provide the first commercially available GEN02 micro-generators in late 2010. This single axis, standard bandwidth (+/- 2 Hz) family of products are called BOLT™060, 120, 050 and 100 (centered around 60 and 120 Hz for the U.S. and 50 and 100 Hz for the E.U. industrial and building markets). These devices will be provided to select partners/customers as engineering samples for evaluation in late 2010 and early 2011.
Vibration-Induced Broadband Excitation (VIBE™) devices with multi-axis and wide bandwidth (up to +/- 15 Hz) will be developed and launched in 2011. These devices will allow for greater adoption in the marketplace because, unlike the industrial and building markets, many WSN applications have vibrational frequencies that shift over time (e.g., due to weather/temperature conditions) or are random.
Currently, MicroGen is seeking $750K to $1MM investment for a Series A round, and is in discussions with investors from Central and Western NY, as well as the New England area.
6. Who is on the Microgen team?
• David Hessler, Chairman and CEO
• Robert G. Andosca, Founder, President and CTO
• Michael Perrotta, CFO/COO
We will be seeking a senior-level VP of Business Development/Sales later this year.
Others team members include:
• Junru Wu, Co-founder, Technical Fellow; fulltime professor of Physics, UVM
• Steven Rosenberg, MEMS Process Development Engineer
• Brian McGowan, M.S. Physics candidate, UVM (testing assistance utilizing UVM's Physical Acoustics and Vibration Laboratory)