CPI to build printed electronic energy harvester for retail applications

A consortium of print manufacturers, led by the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), has completed an 18-month project to develop and scale up a print energy-harvesting device for the mass market.

Sensors and screens could be run off RF energy absorbed from consumers’ smartphones


The company said the device “will play an important role in the development of packaging with electronic functionality”.

Powered by near-field communication (NFC) technology, the device can soak up and draw energy from devices such as mobile phones held at close proximity and then use that stored energy to power small sensors incorporated into items such as POS products and branding.

This technology is essential for realising the Internet of Things, a world in which smart objects sense information about their environment, process this information to respond appropriately, and communicate with individuals or other electronic devices.

The 18 month Innovate UK funded project, entitled “HaRFest”, was led by PragmatIC Printing Ltd, a long time CPI collaborator and global leader in flexible electronics, which has just secured £18 million of private investment from firms including Avery Dennison.

Other partners for the project were the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Large-Area Electronics, the University of Cambridge and the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating (Swansea University).

CPI shared its extensive printed electronics knowhow and expertise with all partners, and as a result of the project has developed an even deeper understanding of the processing techniques and technologies involved in facilitating smart packaging.

The resulting harvesting device houses a printed antenna alongside printed passive and active components, including an array of tuning capacitors. The device can be tuned to resonant frequency in order to maximise harvested power output.

Without the harvesting device it would not be possible to incorporate printed electronic capability into thin substrates such as packaging due to the requirement for power from thicker and less flexible batteries.

This next generation of printed electronic functionality enables product designers to embed electronics into their designs, creating innovative components that are low cost, smarter, lightweight and wireless.

Richard Price, Chief Technology Officer at PragmatIC, said that: “HaRFest addressed a wide range of potentially high volume applications identified by PragmatIC’s customers, and we look forward to progressing commercial discussions based on the project’s achievements.”

Flexible energy harvesting devices such as this have a key role to play in high value industries such as pharmaceuticals, where smart packaging that incorporates printed sensors and NFC technology enables manufacturers to improve supply chain monitoring and prevent counterfeiting, and provides customers with usage instructions, quality assurance and shelf life assessment.

Potential applications for encouraging brand loyalty are also numerous within the FMCG sector, from incorporating moving or flashing images into interactive point-of-sale advertising and smart packaging, to facilitating the collection of loyalty points.

The CPI is currently involved in a number of other projects that Bagshaw and Marsden couldn’t discuss, working with the likes of Unilever, Astra Zeneca and Crown Packaging. 

Its headquarters are in Wilton, Redcar, and it has two other research centres in Darlington and County Durham.