Solar-powered motor runs on 10 nA

Posted on May 3, 2012

Designs for solar-powered applications with low-duty-cycle requirements can often rely on capacitors for energy storage in place of less reliable batteries. Typical applications include solar positioning, telemetry transmitters, chemical pumps, data loggers, and solar-powered toys. The circuit in Figure 1 can run a small pager motor from the output of a small calculator-type solar cell in near darkness. The circuit works by repeatedly charging a 4700-µF capacitor, C1, to 1.75V and then dumping the charge into the motor.

Only the self-leakage current of the solar cell limits low-light operation. The circuit itself has such low leakage currents and trigger-current requirements that it can run the motor on 10 nA of current if you use a low-leakage energy-storage capacitor.

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