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NEWS
The Next Power Supply For Mobile Electronic Devices
May 14, 2018

According to information provided by the University at Buffalo (UB), researchers are working to make the search for a power outlet to charge mobile devices a thing of the past.


A prototype of the triboelectric nanogenerator. Credit: Nano Energy.

Instead, devices will receive electricity from a small metallic tab that, when attached to the body, is capable of generating electricity from bending a finger and other simple movements.

That’s the idea behind a collaborative research project led by UB and the Institute of Semiconductors (IoP) at the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS). The tab — a triboelectric nanogenerator — is described in a study, “Wearable and robust triboelectric nanogenerator based on crumpled gold films,” published online in the journal Nano Energy.

“No one likes being tethered to a power outlet or lugging around a portable charger. The human body is an abundant source of energy. We thought: ‘Why not harness it to produce our own power?’” explained lead author Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor of electrical engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Triboelectric charging occurs when certain materials become electrically charged after coming into contact with a different material. Most everyday static electricity is triboelectric.

Researchers have proposed numerous nanogenerators that utilize the triboelectric effect; however, most are difficult to manufacture (requiring complex lithography) or are not cost effective. The tab that the UB and CAS team is developing addresses both of those concerns.

The tab consists of two thin layers of gold, with polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicon-based polymer, sandwiched in between.

Key to the device is that one layer of gold is stretched, causing it to crumple upon release and create what resembles a miniature mountain range. When that force is reapplied, for example from a finger bending, the motion leads to friction between the gold layers and PDMS.

“This causes electrons to flow back and forth between the gold layers. The more friction, the greater the amount of power is produced,” explained another lead author, Yun Xu, professor of IoP at CAS.

The study describes a small tab (1.5 centimeters long, by 1 centimeter wide) that delivered a maximum voltage of 124 volts, a maximum current of 10 microamps and a maximum power density of 0.22 milliwatts per square centimeter. While not enough current to quickly charge a smartphone, it was enough to light 48 red LED lights simultaneously.

The research is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the National Basic Research Program of China, National Natural Science Foundation of China, Beijing Science and Technology Projects, Key Research Projects of the Frontier Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and National Key Research and Development Plan.


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