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Triboelectric effect can charge mobile phones

Posted: 26 Nov 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:triboelectric  static electricity  friction 

Georgia Tech researchers have demonstrated that power can be harnessed by using the triboelectric effect that creates static electricity from friction—like a phone bouncing around in your pocket into enough power to charge a cell phone battery.

Zhong Lin Wang, a professor of materials science at Georgia Tech, has been working on the problem for several years, mostly focusing on piezoelectric materials that generate an electrical voltage under mechanical stress, but this didn't yield enough power to be really useful.

Now Wang's group has created a device that harnesses power using the triboelectric effect from a type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, and a metal. When thin films of these materials come into contact with one another, they become charged. And when the two films are flexed, a current flows between them, which can be harnessed to charge a battery. When the two surfaces are patterned with nanoscale structures, their surface area is much greater, and so is the friction between the materials and the power they can produce.

So far, the Georgia Tech nanogenerator can convert 10 to 15 per cent of the energy in mechanical motions into electricity, and thinner materials should be able to convert as much as 40 per cent, Wang says.

A fingernail-sized square of the triboelectric nanomaterial can produce 8mW when flexed, enough power to run a pacemaker. A patch that's five by five centimetres can light up 600 LEDs at once, or charge a lithium-ion battery that can then power a commercial cell phone. "The choice of materials is wide, and fabricating the device is easy," says Wang. Any of about 50 common plastics, metals, and other materials can be paired to make this type of device.

Now, the new nanogenerator must be proven to generate power from mechanical vibrations in real life. Wang says he is in talks with companies about developing the energy scavenger for particular applications, and envisions it being worn on an armband.

- Julien Happich
  EE Times

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