A multinational team of engineers is working on new technology that could allow you to charge your phone on the go without having to plug in. The team has developed a new system for charging smartphone batteries that utilizes a nanogenerator to harvest energy from surrounding vibrations.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Sun Yat-sen University in China and the University of Minnesota Duluth developed a nanogenerator that can be installed in a cell phone’s housing. The device converts vibrations, such as those generated by a moving vehicle or walking, into power for the phone.
“We believe this development could be a new solution for creating self-charged personal electronics,” says Xudong Wang, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The team’s mesoporous piezoelectric nanogenerator uses a common piezoelectric polymer material called polyvinylidene fluoride, which can generate electricity from a mechanical force. It can also generate a mechanical strain from an applied electrical field. The researchers incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles into a PVDF thin film to trigger formation of the piezoelectric phase that enables it to harvest vibration energy.
“The softer the material, the more sensitive it is to small vibrations,” says Wang, who noted the simplicity of his team’s design and fabrication process could scale well to larger manufacturing settings.
“We can create tunable mechanical properties in the film,” he says. “And also important is the design of the device. Because we can realize this structure, phone-powering cases or self-powered sensor systems might become possible.”