No power outlet? No problem. Juicing up your gadgets may soon be as easy as lifting your finger. Scientists from the University at Buffalo and the Institute of Semiconductors at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have developed a tiny metallic tab, known as a a triboelectric nanogenerator, that can generate electricity from simple bodily movements,” said Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor of electrical engineering in the University of Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “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?'”

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Triboelectric charging, also known as the triboelectric effect, occurs when certain materials become electrically charged after rubbing against a different material. Most everyday static electricity, for instance, is triboelectricity, Gan said.

As described in a study that was published online January 31 in the journal Nano Energy, the 1.5-by-1-centimeter tab comprises two thin layers of gold separated by a sliver of polydimethylsiloxane, the same silicon-based polymer found in contact lenses and Silly Putty. Stretching the layers of gold sparks friction with the PDMS.

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“This causes electrons to flow back and forth between the gold layers. The more friction, the greater the amount of power is produced,” said Yun Xu, professor of IoP at CAS, one of the study’s authors.

So far, researchers have been able to deliver a maximum voltage of 124 volts, a maximum current of 10 microamps and a maximum power density of 0.22 millwatts per square centimeter—not enough to charge a smartphone just yet, but a promising start nonetheless.

Because the tab is easy to fabricate in a cost-effective way, Gan and his team plan to experiment with larger pieces of gold to generate more electricity.

The scientists are also working on developing a portable battery to store energy produced by the tab. Their eventual goal? To create a power source for a raft of wearable self-powered electronic devices, Gan said.

+ University at Buffalo

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