Information Batteries - Energy -> Data

Computers render power directly into data, “information batteries”. Data store vs. energy store: more cycling, less materials, costs less.

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Information batteries were proposed by Switzer & Raghavan of UCSD in a 2022 CS paper: Computers render opportunity power directly into useful data, “information batteries”. An information store vs energy store provides more cycling, fewer materials, and costs less, so information batteries are a kind of "planet-friendly power", skipping the infrastructure normally required to go to the product. This is an ESP32 based prototype of that concept, feeding back power information from small solar panels, hybrid supercapacitors to self regulated sleep, using F-RAM for persistent storage, and meshed with other devices.

The energy consumed in the extraction and manufacture of electronics and computers represents a significant environmental burden.  This energy of manufacture is known variously as "embodied energy" or "emergy".   Switzer and Raghavan's 2022 CS paper suggested opportunity power might be more easily and with lower environmental impact rendered into "information batteries" rather than energy batteries, since materially speaking information requires less infrastructure to store than energy, so it represents a kind of clean energy solution focussed on end-use requirements and products. Intermittent power systems like wind and solar often have energy surpluses to the degree they need to be shut down rather than overload electrical grids.  Many computing jobs can be flexibly scheduled and can take advantage of these energy surpluses.   However, in order for the "information batteries" concept to work it needs to be tested with intermittent power and actual computers. 

The Information Batteries project seeks to model a set of smart city IoT nodes which measure temperature and pressure, and then see what other kinds of computing they might sustain, toward the realization of "information batteries" across shared networks.   In this way we might maximize the use of shared computing resources with a better return on embodied energy, rather than having some computers stand idle while more computers are manufactured and committed to e-waste (usually in working condition). 

While not directly related to the information batteries concept, but apropos of planet-friendly power, this project  utilizes a batteryless energy system: batteries often rely on metals and wear out after a short time, unlike hybrid supercapacitors which have energy densities approaching carbon-zinc batteries, yet recharge 500,000 times and last decades. 

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  • Pis and Parallel regulators

    Brian Sutherland04/30/2022 at 20:32 0 comments

    The information battery concept might also be modelled with a series of Raspberry Pis equipped with voltage monitoring and larger supercapacitors in series with appropriate balancing, as well as larger solar panels, e.g. 40-100W. 

    One design feature is parallel voltage regulators, where one regulator charges a small capacitor, e.g. 10,000uF and the other charges a couple of supercapacitors in series e.g. 25F.   The supercapacitors feed back to the small capacitor with a diode, and the computing power load goes across the small capacitor. 

    For devices where people expect them to turn on instantly like with batteries.  When the sun comes out, the power circuit fills the small bucket (capacitor) quickly to the target voltage to start and run the device, while the larger bucket (supercapacitors) fill more slowly so that when they reach the target voltage, they provide stability from energy transients (like clouds passing) reducing the number of deep sleep cycles required.

     Less time working for investment of CPUs vs more time for greater investment in power stability.

  • Information Batteries - Beginning

    Brian Sutherland04/30/2022 at 20:11 1 comment

    At this point I have the Eaton hybrid supercapacitors, 220F, some specific solar panels I've tested (4.1V open circuit, so they naturally tap out at 3.6V below the diode, to keep the hybrid supercaps handy, with low part count.  No regulator is required to step around the hybrid supercapacitors, just a diode. 

    I have prior experience with Espressif microcontrollers feeding their voltage systems back into the ADC with a voltage divider, so they can be programmed to go into deep sleep and then recover from intermittent power.  
    Here's a video.  

    In one of the images I've shared there's a Heltec WiFi Kit 32, hooked up to a Bosch pressure sensor, BMP280, but I may switch to another IoT such as the Adafruit ESP32-S2, which has the environmental sensor built in, or the Adafruit ESP32-S2 with TFT screen like the Heltec.   Initially it will not be important to conserve power, the main focus will be the software development for processing a research job with a mesh cluster.

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