Interview of Peter Spies, WP3 leader

Dr. Peter Spies is manager of the “integrated energy supplies” group in Fraunhofer IIS where he is doing research and design on the field of power and battery management and energy harvesting. In EnSO, he is the Work Package (WP)3 leader, focused on energy harvesting and smart recharge.

Hello Peter, so you work in Nuremberg, can you tell me a bit more about it?

Peter Spies: Actually I don’t live in Nuremberg city center, but in a little town 25km away called Herzogenaurach. Since the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) is located on the outskirts of Nuremberg, it’s very convenient to come by car, no traffic jam! Nuremberg itself is a very nice city, very lively thanks to a lot of students, technical schools, and Universities. It’s a really cool place to live in.

Sounds nice! Any specificity in your region?

P.S.: Yes indeed! Nuremberg is at the border of the Franconian Switzerland, a famous touristic spot, with beautiful landscape thanks to amazing rocky hills, forests and small villages. You can enjoy a lot of outdoors activites, like hiking, cycling and running. A fun fact: it’s the region with the highest density of breweries in the world! A lot of this small villages/towns have their own microbrewery where you can enjoy a beer after a little hiking.

Well, you convinced me to come and visit, for sure! Let’s go to the EnSO project. What’s your role in it?

P.S.: My role is divided in two parts. First, I’m the WP3 leader, focused on energy harvesting and smart recharge. The aim is to develop technologies that will use any ambient energy to charge batteries. It goes from light with solar cells to vibration and temperature harvesting systems. A further option is recharging by wireless energy transmission like NFC. The second part of my work in Enso is the development and research in the field of power and battery management to adapt the different energy harvesters to the battery. . My team at IIS is contribution to this topic in Enso.

Adapt ? So adaptation is needed between harvesters and batteries?

P.S.: Yes, it is a very important part in the development of energy harvesting systems. All harvesters have a different output profile (different voltage, current…), and might act differently in various environment. You always have to think of the best energy efficiency, i.e., the minimum loss and the best power output. For instance, a solar cell will not provide the same power when it is outside directly under the sun, than inside a house, or in the shade. It also means that when the power is high, the voltage or current that goes into the battery is high as well, and your battery might no support it. You don’t want to kill the battery! So you need to have specific power management to handle the issue. These systems are here to adapt the voltage and current in different conditions to get the maximum power into the battery without increasing the losses or even damaging it. Adapting the power is also a way to cope with battery ageing. To reduce it, you can adapt the charge profile, and use low current for instance.

This is very interesting. Besides EnSO, are you involved in other European projects?

P.S.: Yes, our group is part of three different European projects, and we have a couple on the way. Before, I was more involved in national projects, so for me it’s a new challenge to step up to a European level. I easily have access to German companies here, I know the national network well. Being part of European projects opens new opportunities, we learn a lot about foreign partners and their needs, and I hope to extend the collaboration after the end of the project.

Any particularity of the EnSO project, which is an ECSEL JU project, that you want to emphasize?

P.S.: EnSO is very interesting because of the many end-users we have access to. Of course as a RTO (Research and Technology Organization) focusing on applied research like Fraunhofer is doing, it is mandatory to have end-users to work with. This means that we concentrate our Research on real requirements. I expect a lot from EnSO, and first and foremost to develop Industrial applications and outcomes.  

Do you think Europe is a leader in your field, in IoT?

P.S.: My group is interested in any integrated systems for small electronics devices. I don’t know if Europe can be the leader in IoT, but I know that European Research in Energy harvesting is of high-value. There’s a strong development of energy harvesting and storage technology and microsystems  in Europe, with world-renowned Research centers like Fraunhofer IIS, CEA-Leti, Tyndall and IMEC working on IoT and harvesting technologies. So if it’s not now, it has definitely the potential to become the leader.

Last question. Anything you want to say to someone who wants to work on harvesting and power management?

P.S.: Ah! Vast question. I think it’s very important to be committed and convinced. All people I work with believe that the solution to sustainable and energy efficient devices is the harvesting technology. The benefit of energy harvesting is high and can be a real solution to energy efficiency. I also think that anyone who wants to work in this field needs to remain versatile. There is not only one solution, it’s not going to be only solar harvesting for instance, you need to keep an open mind and work on the whole spectrum

Interview of Raphael Salot, Coordinator

Dr. Raphaël Salot is Head of the CEA-LETI Embedded Micro battery Laboratory. Previously WP2 Leader of EnSO, he is now the coordinator of the project.

Tell me about yourself and your place of work.

Raphaël Salot: Raphaël Salot: I live in a small town, in the Vercors mountains surrounding Grenoble. It’s 1000 meters high, so you can picture a lot of snow and people doing cross-country skiing. I love the Grenoble area for its way of life and cosmopolitan population. With many Engineering schools, Universities and R&D centers, Grenoble is full of students and highly-skilled people. It’s clearly a New Technologies-focused city, with RTOs, big companies, and SMEs working together towards innovative solutions. Also since you have such beautiful mountains nearby, Grenoble is perfect for outdoor activities.

Seems a good combination, science and sport! Let’s get to the project. You’ve recently changed position in the EnSO project. Could you tell us more about that?

R.S.: For the first 2 years, I was the WP2 leader, focused on rechargeable microbatteries, more related to the energy storage part of the EnSO project. Since the beginning of the year, I’m in charge of the coordination of the whole project. In consequence, the WP2 will be led by Steve Martin, from CEA, and Prayon. The WP5 leadership will be picked up by TNO.

I guess it’s not easy to change position in the middle of the project.

R.S.: I did coordinate projects before, although smaller ones. The coordination position in EnSO is a challenging yet thrilling position for me, because EnSO is a multidisciplinary project, which includes numerous Industrial partners with high expectations.

Tell us more about EnSO. How did you come up with the idea?

R.S.: The project is dedicated to find new power and energy solutions for smart object. Basically the aim is to develop energy storage, energy harvesting and power management solutions along with their integration into flexible material (See the Interview of Corne Rentrop, EnSO Newsletter #2). The ultimate goal is to build autonomous smart systems. I’ve been working for many years on batteries, with numerous collaborations and partnerships.

What are the main outcome of the project so far?

R.S.: huge progress has been made in batteries manufacturing and performances. Moreover, we now have the first complete AMES (Autonomous Micro Energy Sources) ready to be sent to end-users for integration, testing and evaluation. EnSO is a great opportunity to push the maturity of technology to the highest level thanks to testing by end-users.

What would you say is the main advantage of this consortium?

R.S.: All the value chain is represented, as well as all the technical expertise needed. It’s amazing to have, in one consortium, all the people involved in the process of developing the technology e.g. material supplier, researchers & engineers, pilot lines, & end-users. I believe all of the partners will benefit from their participation in EnSO.  

Seems that the project foster great opportunities. How did you foresee the position of Europe in energy for IoT market?

R.S.: I don’t think Europe is leading for the moment, Asia and USA are the key players. However, developing innovative solutions as the one in EnSO is the next opportunity for Europe to be the leader in energy for IoT ! Indeed, we are leading the thin film solid state batteries technology with manufacturing processes already at a high maturity level. We also have the complete value chain working together to build up a fully autonomous system. Thus Europe could easily win market shares using EnSO solution.

Fingers crossed. Last but not least, any word for young researchers?

R.S.: I strongly encourage young people to get to work on energy solutions, it’s the way of the future. To get there I had a classic education. First an engineering school in Physics, from which I got to work on nuclear energy in CEA and then I switch to new energy solutions. I love the position I am in because it is very varied, I meet people from different countries, different background, and in different positions. One advice for youngsters: work on topics you are passionate about!

Interview with Corne Rentrop, WP4 Leader

Corne Rentrop is a senior research scientist who works in the hybrid printed electronics group of the Holst Center, TNO. Corne is also WP4 leader of the EnSO project.  


Tell me about yourself and your place of work.

Corne Rentrop: I have been working in TNO (the Netherlands Organization for applied scientific research) on materiasl science, and in the Holst Center for the past 2 years. The Holst Centre is an R&D independent open-innovative center, founded by both Imec and TNO. We focus on Wireless Autonomous Sensor Technologies and Flexible Electronics. It’s located at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, the city built by Philips!

What do you mean? And how do you like it ?

C.R.: The campus is highly stimulating. It gathers more than 160 Institutes and companies, from SMEs to big names like Shimano for instance. It brings a very positive feeling of entrepreneurship. It’s also very international, just as in the Holst Center. We count 26 nationalities for a staff of 250 people. It means there are a lot of social events and more importantly, very good food! I’m encouraging researchers to come and work here, the atmosphere is very friendly and open-minded.

It seems like a good place to live in! Let’s get into the EnSO project. What’s your role in it?

C.R.: The WP4 of the EnSO project is the AMES (Autonomous Micro Energy Sources) assembly. Basically, we produce flexible electronic circuit boards by printing conductive ink on plastic foil. Thus electronic components are scalable at a low cost, since printed electronics can be easily produced at large scale with e.g. Roll-to-roll printing. The EnSO project focuses on energy for IoT (Internet of Object). One of the aim of the IoT field is to create products that are autonomous, i.e. do not need an external source of power. In EnSO, we were able to produce a hybridized flexboard which includes an antenna and power management system, and is used as part of an Energy harvester for small connected objects. So far we have produced prototypes of the flexboard with state of the art industrial production methods. We have received very positive comments. After few alteration of the initial design, we were able to meet the specifications and we are hoping to produce at larger scale in the near future.

It’s great news! It seems that thanks to this technology, you’re entering the LOPE-C competition. Could you tell us more?

C.R.: The LOPE-C conference and exhibition is a world-class event related to printed electronics. It’s jointly organized by the Organic Electronics Association and Messe Munchen. More than 1800 people are expected, thus it’s high visibility for us and for the project. In the LOPE-C competition, several highly innovative EU projects present their demonstration. We’re hoping to have positive and relevant feedbacks on the technology, and even win the competition!

Fingers crossed. Could you thus tell us the benefits you got from the EnSO project?

C.R.: What I really liked about EnSO is the link between R&D and Industry. Within the project, we were discussing with companies such as ST and Gemalto, and other end users. Performing research for such companies becomes more and more important for us, it keeps your feet on the ground. The ECSEL program is really good for bridging Industrial and Public Research. In EnSO, all the work we do is at a high TRL and can be expected to be on the market.

Talking about market, what’s the future of hybrid printed electronics?

C.R.: The printed electronics field is definitely on the rise. It’s flexible, low cost and can be produced in high volumes. Applications can range from the medical field to building facilities, packaging, and automotive. It’s rapidly growing. Scalability and Flexibility, but especially the fact that these electronics may even be stretchable is of particular interest. You can imagine to print electronics on rubber and insert it into clothes, or print it on plastic and then thermoform it into e.g. a phone.

It definitely stimulates imagination! And what about the place of Europe in this growing market?

C.R.: Tricky question! So far Europe was leading Research in the field but it may change. USA, China and Korea are now also big players in the game. In USA, the organic electronics (another way to call printed electronics) are funded by the Department of Defense. That’s why we need these EU Research project, which associates numerous countries, to redeem our ranking in the race!

Anything you want to add, any advice for young researchers?

C.R.: Look for your PEERs and be happy in your work.