The development of self-powered wireless microelectromechanical (MEMS) sensors hinges on the ability to harvest adequate energy from the environment. When solar energy is not available, mechanical energy from ambient vibrations, which are typically low frequency, is of particular interest. Here, higher power levels were approached by better coupling mechanical energy into the harvester, using improved piezoelectric layers, and efficiently extracting energy through the use of low voltage rectifiers. Most of the available research on piezoelectric energy harvesters reports Pb(Zr,Ti)O3 (PZT) or AlN thin films on Si substrates, which are well-utilized for microfabrication. However, to be highly reliable under large vibrations and impacts, flexible passive layers such as metal foil with high fracture strength would be more desirable than brittle Si substrates for MEMS energy harvesting. In addition, metallic substrates readily enable tuning the resonant frequency down by adding proof masses. In order to extract the maximum power from such a device, a high level of (001) film orientation enables an increase in the energy harvesting figures of merit due to the coupling of strong piezoelectricity and low dielectric permittivity.

Strongly {001} oriented PZT could be deposited by chemical solution deposition or RF magnetron sputtering and ex situ annealing on (100) oriented LaNiO3 / HfO2 / Ni foils. The comparatively high thermal expansion coefficient of the Ni facilitates development of a strong out-of-plane polarization. 31 mode cantilever beam energy harvesters were fabricated using strongly {001} textured 1∼3 μm thick PZT films on Ni foils with dielectric permittivity of ∼ 350 and low loss tangent (<2%) at 100 Hz. The resonance frequency of the cantilevers (50∼75 Hz) was tuned by changing the beam size and proof mass. A cantilever beam with 3 μm thickness of PZT film and 0.4 g proof mass exhibited a maximum output power of 64.5 μW under 1 g acceleration vibration with a 100 kΩ load resistance after poling at 50 V (EC ∼ 16 V) for 10 min at room temperature. Under 0.3g acceleration, the average power of the device is 9 μW at a resonance frequency of ∼70 Hz. Excellent agreement between the measured and modeled data was obtained using a linear analytical model for an energy harvesting system, using an Euler-Bernoulli beam model. It was also demonstrated that up to an order of magnitude more power could be harvested by more efficiently utilizing the available strain using a parabolic mode shape for the vibrating structure. Additionally, voltage rectifying electronics in the form of ZnO thin film transistors are deposited directly on the cantilever. This relieves the role of voltage rectification from the interfacing circuitry and provides a technique improved harvesting relative to solid state diode rectification because the turn-on bias can be reduced to zero.

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