Ultra-low power microcontrollers enabling energy harvesting applications

June 19, 2019 // By Graeme Clark, Renesas Electronics
Ultra-low power microcontrollers enabling energy harvesting applications
In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the Japanese government set up the LEAP (Low power Electronics Association and Project) initiative. This has the express aim of developing new, ultra-low power technologies to reduce energy consumption in a wide range of applications across the consumer and industrial market in Japan.

One of the first technologies to come to fruition from this programme is a new semiconductor process technology that will allow the development of a whole range of new ultra-low power semiconductor devices.

This process is known as Silicon on Thin Buried Oxide (SOTB). It was derived from the Fully Depleted - Silicon on Isolator (FD-SOI) process technology that is commonly used to manufacture high performance System on Chip (SOC) and Application Specific Standard Products (ASSPs) today. Devices using FD-SOI process technology tend to offer high levels of integration and high clock rates. However, while they can offer impressive figures for Icc/MHz they are not normally considered to be low power and generally cannot integrate embedded memory.

Silicon on Thin Buried Oxide (SOTB) has been specifically developed to support the design of the next generation of ultra-low power embedded microcontrollers, aimed at providing high performance solutions for energy harvesting applications.

Embedded controllers implemented on the new SOTB process will be able to combine high CPU performance, high levels of memory integration, and extremely low levels of both active and standby current. This makes them ideal for connected applications that will harvest their energy from the environment.

Most of today’s microcontrollers are developed using one of the many varieties of CMOS bulk silicon processes. These processes have a long history in the semiconductor industry and are extremely well understood, both in terms of the benefits of these specific processes and their weaknesses. When we want to develop a new microcontroller for a specific application, we must choose the process carefully, depending on the exact electrical characteristics of the device we require.

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