Data recording from self-powered wireless sensors at Robinson Brothers chemicals in UK

With many industrial processes having an abundance of heat, energy harvesting takes energy from environment to power wireless devices that ‘could go on forever’


In the past, physical constraints to add wiring into existing installations made it difficult and expensive to optimize a process. ABB WirelessHART temperature sensor with Energy Harvester requires no wiring, no external power supply, ideally no battery replacement and can send data wirelessly.

Trialling the world’s first self-powered temperature sensor

A manufacturer of speciality chemicals based in the West Midlands in UK, Robinson Brothers ​has been the first to ​try the novel wireless sensors powered by energy harvesting to measure the temperature of their central heat distribution network at certain points and transmit measurement values to office buildings without the need for wiring inside the process building.

The ABB transmitter is powered by an on-board micro-thermoelectric generator (micro-TEG), which is driven by the temperature difference between the steam pipe and the ambient surroundings.

The device was installed in November 2012 and since that time it is powered permanently by process temperature as it is high enough to get a 100% power supply from TEGs.

Main facts

Industry Chemicals - specialty and consumer products
Customer Robinson Brothers 
Country United Kingdom
 System integrator
 ICA Services

System integrator helping to explore wireless technology

The system was installed by integration specialist ICA Services, which suggested exploring energy harvesting as a way of eliminating cabling costs in future instrumentation schemes at the West Midlands site.

The system at Robinson Brothers needs a minimum temperature difference of around 30°C, which is easily achieved in this application where the steam flows at around 106°C and the ambient air is typically 26°C. The transmitter also has a built-in back-up battery which is not used during normal plant operation. 

ICA Services engineers set up the transmitter to send data wirelessly to a remote wireless gateway, which feeds the signal into the site’s existing Ethernet network and then to an ABB SM500F data recorder.

Tom Rutter, E&I manager
“​The transmitter ​is ticking all the boxes without drawing any power from its back-up battery. It looks like it could go on forever, provided there’s steam flowing through the line.”

An ideal alternative to wired or battery-powered devices

The micro-TEGS used in ABB’s WirelessHART temperature transmitters provide a robust and compact solution for energy harvesting from either hot or cold processes. With many industrial processes, such as those at Robinson Brothers, having an abundance of heat, the power that can be delivered by TEGs is sufficient to operate wireless sensors in a variety of locations.

With wiring and installation costs accounting for almost 50 percent of the total cost of a device, it makes both financial and technological sense to use wireless devices wherever possible. 

Energy harvesting provides an ideal alternative to wired or battery-powered devices in processes suited to the use of wireless devices. Energy harvesting takes energy from the environment and converts it into usable electrical energy, which is then used to power the wireless device. As well as thermal energy, energy harvesting technology can also be used to derive power from solar radiation, vibration and kinetic energy from flowing media or moving parts.
As well as thermal energy, energy harvesting technology can also be used to derive power from solar radiation, vibration and kinetic energy from flowing media or moving parts.

Customer view after successful trial

“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be using the energy harvesting technology again after such a successful trial,” says Mr Rutter. “We’ve already got over 10,000 measurement points around the site but we don’t have much wireless technology."

"It’s something we’ll be looking to do more of in future projects because there are terrific cabling costs involved in installing conventional instrumentation and the potential savings are obvious.”

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