Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Buffalo, NY, United States (4E) – It might remind you of the Matrix where humans were used as batteries powering villainous sentient machines, but new research just out prove it’s possible to generate enough electricity to power LED lights by using simple body movements such as bending your finger.
Further developments will allow body movements to power more complex electronic devices such as smartphones.
A collaborative research project led by University at Buffalo and the Institute of Semiconductors (IoP) at Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) has developed a metallic “triboelectric nanogenerator” (or a tab) that when attached to the body, can generate electricity from bending a finger and other simple movements.
The published study about the device describes a small tab (1.5 centimeters long, by 1 centimeter wide). It delivered a maximum voltage of 124 volts, a maximum current of 10 microamps and a maximum power density of 0.22 millwatts per square centimeter. That’s not enough to quickly charge a smartphone, but it did light 48 red LED lights simultaneously.
Triboelectric charging occurs when certain materials become electrically charged after coming into contact with a different material. Most static electricity is triboelectric, for example.
The tab being developed by the UB and CAS team addresses the major problems hindering the widespread use of this device: the difficulty of manufacturing, which requires complex lithography, and the enormous expense.
It consists of two thin layers of gold, with polydimethylsiloxane (also called PDMS, a silicon-based polymer used in contact lenses, for example) sandwiched in between.
Key to the device is that one layer of gold is stretched, causing it to crumple upon release and create a series of ridges. 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.
The team plans to use larger pieces of gold, which when stretched and folded together are expected to deliver even more electricity.
“The human body is an abundant source of energy,” said lead author Qiaoqiang Gan, PhD, associate professor of electrical engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“We thought ‘Why not harness it to produce our own power?’”
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