Cure for the battery blues

Israel’s Sol Chip relies on sun power in its unique, eco-friendly renewable battery technology for industries ranging from agricultural to medical.

 Cure for the battery blues


Sol Chip CEO Dr. Shani Keysar

By David Halevi

Tens of millions of small devices powered by batteries perform all manner of important functions that keep life as we know it operating smoothly. But batteries can be impractical and expensive to replace. Haifa-based Sol Chip has made a great deal of progress in developing an eco-friendly renewable battery power technology that integrates photovoltaic energy sources (PV) with low-power electronic devices (VLSI).

A good example of how this solution solves the battery dilemma can be found in the radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that track individual livestock headed for export or slaughter. The tags ensure that if a health emergency arises each animal can be accounted for. However, changing the tags’ batteries is so complicated that it’s impractical. Instead, the tags have to be replaced – at great expense to the farmer, since there could be tens of thousands of heads of cattle involved, says Sol Chip CEO Dr. Shani Keysar.

"Our photovoltaic-PV renewable battery is especially designed for small, low-power devices, like RFID tags, so farmers can save themselves effort and money as they try to keep track of their herds," Keysar explains.

Halving the cost of battery-operated devices

Numerous other solutions already exist for what has become a major problem not only for farmers, but also for security officials (radar and automatic detection and alarm equipment), city managers (automatic water allocation and supply systems) and medical staff (emergency equipment), among many others.

Sol Chip’s technology is unique in that it allows the integration of the PV chip with transistors, so that the energy renewal cells are part and parcel of the transistors that make the device work. The result: An effective, lower-cost device that lasts almost indefinitely.

"The process halves the cost of devices like [RFID] tags and ensures greater efficiency of energy use," says Keysar. "The transistors and the power cell are exposed to the sun and store energy using the PV technology, allowing the device to continue functioning at all hours of the day."

Sol Chip, established by Keysar in 2009, has three full-time employees, plus additional freelance support staff, and is a member of the Trendlines Group’s Mofet B’Yehuda Innovation Accelerator, which is its major funding source.

Right now, it is concentrating on developing solutions for agriculture at the initial stages. Working with Israeli company Netafim, a leading maker of drip irrigation systems, Sol Chip is developing technology that will allow sprinkler systems to operate almost indefinitely without the need to change batteries. "We believe there is great opportunity in the agricultural field, but we are not averse to working in other areas as well." Meanwhile, Keysar says, she has been in talks with several foreign companies, "including a worldwide conglomerate that is at the top of its field."

The first Sol Chips should be on the market soon. "We’re currently doing initial tests on components of the product, which is about to go into mass production. We expect to begin selling by the first or second quarter of 2012," Keysar says.

And just in time, too. "There is an enormous demand for low-power devices, and until now their ability to operate autonomously is limited by battery lifespan, and their use hampered by the high cost of replacing batteries, device down-time and the hazardous effects of battery waste on the environment. Our technology directly addresses these needs."