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Power at your fingertips

The prototype nanogenerator. Pic: Nano Energy

A research team led by the University of Buffalo believes electronic devices could be powered by a small metallic tab that would generate electricity through the bending a finger or by other simple movements.
“No one likes being tethered to a power outlet or lugging around a portable charger,” said lead researcher Qiaoqiang Gan. “The human body is an abundant source of energy, so why not harness it to produce our own power?”

The tab is a triboelectric nanogenerator. While a number of nanogenerators that use the triboelectric effect have been proposed, most are said to be difficult to manufacture or to not be cost effective. The tab developed by the University of Buffalo team is said to address both of those concerns.

The device comprises two thin layers of gold, with a layer of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) sandwiched in between. When a finger is bent, for example, the motion leads to friction between the gold layers and PDMS.

“This causes electrons to flow back and forth between the gold layers,” said Professor Yun Xu from research partner the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The more friction, the greater the amount of power produced.”

According to the team, a tab measuring 1.5 x 1cm delivered a maximum of 124V, a maximum current of 10µA and a maximum power density of 0.22mW/cm2. This, the researchers assert, was enough to light 48 red LED lights simultaneously.

University of Buffalo undergraduates have been tasked with improving the tab’s performance, including the use of larger pieces of gold to deliver more electricity.

Researchers are also developing a portable battery to store energy produced by the tab and envision the system serving as a power source for various wearable and self-powered electronic devices.

Graham Pitcher

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