Repurposing radio waves

Generation Briskr / 20-09-2019

A new source of energy is bursting onto the scene: solid state RF energy. Industrial ovens and plasma lamps will start using it first, but other products will follow, pinkRF director Dr Klaus Werner predicts. His company is forging a bridge to the new applications.

 

When Klaus Werner was working as a business development manager at NXP’s RF Power Division (now Ampleon), he noticed that more and more new customers were rooted in unexpected fields. “RF power amplifiers were used in base stations of transmitter towers or in radar systems to transmit and boost signals,” says Dr Klaus Werner. “However, those new customers were interested in a different feature of the high frequency radio waves: their energy content. ‘Would it be possible to use that energy to power lighting or to heat food?’ they asked.”


The answer was yes and Werner realised the huge potential of so-called solid state RF energy, where solid state refers to the semiconductor components that generate the radio frequency waves. He is now putting his belief into practice with his own company pinkRF, which he founded together with colleague Mark Murphy in 2015. They help new users of RF energy find their way in what is unknown territory for them. “We bridge the gap between the world of RF power transistors and that of customer applications.”


Bright light
Werner is not the only one to have high expectations. He took the initiative of setting up the RF Energy Alliance, which brings together component manufacturers and users. White good manufacturers like Whirlpool, Miele and Panasonic are also represented in the Alliance. That’s no coincidence, as one of the applications about to be launched is the solid state microwave. “The existing devices use old fashioned vacuum tube technology. These tubes produce the microwaves but they are difficult to regulate and distribute heat unevenly. That’s why you have the rotating glass plate,” Werner explains. “By contrast, solid state energy can be regulated perfectly. The energy can be released far more homogeneously and more subtly. Furthermore, there’s very little wear and tear with this technology.”


The first prototypes for professional ovens appeared on the market in 2017, mostly used by high end users, such as restaurants and canteens. Werner expects that the new solid state cookers will be available in the shops in two years from now. Solid state RF is also being used in the lighting industry. “Lamps powered by this energy sourcegive off a very beautiful and really bright, white light.” The lamps are robust because they are mechanically simple and no longer contain electrodes that can be easily damaged. “They have a life of up to 50,000 hours,” according to Werner. Once again, it’s the professional market that will be served first. “Think of shop or street lighting, or at a later stage lamps for cars and greenhouses. However, given the tsunami of LED technology development, the plasma lamps will probably be limited to a couple of lighting niches. Still, very attractive numbers to go for.”

 

Pink
One special application is known as hyperthermia. The radio waves are used to heat cancer cells and kill them. Werner and his partner visited a specialised cancer clinic where hyperthermia is already being used. They were so impressed by what the technology can do for cancer patients that they incorporated this experience into the company name. Werner: “Breast cancer is one of the types of cancer treated with hyperthermia. And because Pink Ribbon, as an organisation, dedicates itself to breast cancer patients, we have included this optimistic colour ‘pink’ in our name.” “Although building a better microwave is a nice challenge, nothing beats working on a technology that contributes to people’s wellbeing. This application touches and inspires us.”