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Founded in 2010, M3 Technology Inc. specializes in the design, testing, and production of power semiconductors, mainly focusing on power management ICs (PMICs). Its products are widely used in ICT, consumer electronics devices, and other fast-growing, high-end PMIC applications.
This year, the company is proud to announce two milestones: listing at the Taiwan Stock Exchange and winning a Most Promising Product accolade at EE Awards Asia 2022 for its MT2600 Supercapacitor Power Manager for Backup Power Applications. Now in its second year, EE Awards Asia celebrates the innovation, creativity, and contributions of Asia’s engineering community that have made a difference in the way we work, live, and communicate over the past year.
Supercapacitors coming to the fore
According to Bo Yang, R&D Director at M3 Technology, MT2600 is basically a supercapacitor charging and discharging management IC that offers system-level protection.
“As we see it, supercapacitors, after several decades of development, finally are reaching a level of performance in terms of power density, energy density, reliability, cost — to compete with the lithium-ion battery,” said Yang. “We saw that opportunity so we developed this product, which can be used for a lot of applications, including automotive and mobile devices. Right now, a lot of mobile devices are beginning to use supercapacitors as their energy storage.”
Yang added that the supercapacitor is becoming a major player in energy storage applications. “It has a lot of advantages compared to a battery: It has a much longer lifetime, it can be charged like half a million times without losing any performance, and it can tolerate much wider temperature ranges,” he said. “And it’s a much safer and more reliable energy storage.”
He notes that because of those features, more and more manufacturers are using supercapacitors. The challenge is that there are not enough power management devices targeted at these devices. “When you look at some of the users of supercapacitors, they have to use discretes like resistors and diodes to charge or balance the capacitor, or to discharge the capacitor,” said Yang. Which, in the end, will cost more and occupy a lot of space.
“Another thing is that those solutions normally have a lot of self-discharge. Basically, you try to store energy in the supercapacitor to use later, but after you add all these protection circuits, and other bells and whistles, such circuits begin to drain the supercapacitor already — your stored energy is already being used by those components. That’s another problem,” explained Yang.
On top of it, system protection is another issue. “When you look at how customers use supercapacitors, they bring to mind a lot of considerations. Normally, for example, they use USB to charge these supercapacitors. When you use USB, you plug it in, you have a lot of transient voltages and transient currents — and as such, you need to have a lot of other components to protect the supercapacitors from damages. Those things are extra — you have to add those things to keep the system safe,” said Yang.
M3 Technology’s MT2600 addresses these issues. “What we are trying to solve is, first, the management of supercapacitors — we want it to be very, very energy efficient. We don’t want to waste any energy by our IC,” said Yang. “Another thing is we try to integrate the protection inside our IC. Basically, MT2600 is a one-chip solution — it provides all the input overcurrent/overvoltage and output overcurrent protection, while at the same time managing the charged supercapacitor.”
“We did all the hard work to make the supercapacitor easy for system engineers to use,” commented David Meng, President and CEO of M3 Technology. “Before, they need to build large external circuits to be able to use supercapacitors. With the MT2600, everything became easy — just put the MT2600 with the two supercapacitors in series or in parallel, and we can get the whole system working. Basically, we have done all the hard work in the MT2600 to make it very easy for designers to use supercapacitors.”
In terms of applications, supercapacitors are seeing increasing use in automotive applications and IoT devices.
“Temperatures during summer could get really, really high inside a car. Lithium-ion batteries have a safety issue — they cannot work at those high temperatures. That’s one major problem for rechargeable batteries,” said Yang. “Another application is for IoT devices, which need very low maintenance. They don’t want to change their batteries. They wanted to put them around for 10 years or more. In that case, battery is not a good solution, especially when you have an energy harvester — you can charge this device and discharge. So, in those places, we can see supercapacitors beginning to be utilized. Another example, for a lot of portable devices like the stylus — users want fast charging. Those things are beginning to also use supercapacitors. So, I think IoT and the automotive markets are among the major driving forces in the future for supercapacitors.”
Meng noted that video recording systems such as dash cams are also a major driver for supercapacitor adoption.
“As prices are becoming reasonable, we can see people putting supercapacitors in a lot of video recording systems. Before, they were using lithium batteries; but because of safety issues, especially during hot summer days, they have changed to supercapacitors,” said Meng. “Now, with our MT2600, designers will find it easy to use supercapacitors. We expect to see more dash cams using supercapacitors.”
Why MT2600 Is Unique
According to Yang, there are already supercapacitor management ICs in the market.
“But I think MT2600 is really unique in that it integrates more system functions,” he said. “MT2600 is not only a supercapacitor charging/discharging device, but it also has system-level protection from the input side, OVP/OCP, reverse blocking, all kinds of situations. And all these functions are put into this chip.”
He said other existing supercapacitor chargers require a lot of external components and circuitry to create a total solution. “MT2600 is a one-chip solution — you just need several passive components, and a supercapacitor, and you have a power system to power your system with back-up energy capability, and this is complete with all the protection. This device is really the most integrated solution for this kind of system,” said Yang.
Meng added that another benefit of using the MT2600 is that it only draws less than 2µA from the supercapacitor. “So, the energy that is being supplied to the system is not being drained by this chip. That’s the benefit of this linear charging and discharging architecture of the supercapacitor,” he said. “Other companies use a switching charger, which charges the supercapacitor and discharges it. That, by itself, is going to consume several milliamps of current, so that’s already like 1,000 times difference.”
Winning an EE Award
According to Yang, winning an award for the MT2600 is a confirmation of their efforts in really understanding their customers’ needs and creating a solution to meet those requirements.
“It’s a good starting point,” said Meng. “Hopefully, this will give us even more positive feedback so that we can develop more unique and advanced products. Maybe next year, and the year after, we still can get another award or two. That, I am looking forward to! This award gives us confidence — even if we started very small, we still could win on the architecture and beat other companies.”