Zhong Lin Wang and his team at the Georgia Institute of Technology have come up with a generator that powers your smartphone with nothing more than typing and swiping. The idea is based on the triboelectric effect, which produces an electric charge from the friction of two different materials rubbing together. It’s a breakthrough that has already been successfully incorporated into various objects, and could mean you never have to charge your phone again!
To increase the amount of friction, and therefore output, Wang and his team added microscopic patterns to specially-adapted sheets of polymer. The result is an energy-output device called a triboelectric nanogenerator, or TENG, that can produce enough power to illuminate 1000 LED bulbs with a single stamp of the foot.”The amount of charge transferred depends on surface properties,” explains Wang. “Making patterns of nanomaterials on the polymer films’ surfaces increases the contact area between the sheets and can make a 1000-fold difference in the power generated.”
The nanogenerator is extremely adaptable, and has already been incorporated into materials such as paper, metal, plastic, and cloth. As for practical applications, the team has experimented with shoe insoles, whistles, floor mats, backpacks and even ocean buoys, which can harness the energy created by friction from the surrounding waves. Apart from waves, Wang believes the technology can be used to gather energy from rain and wind, which could eventually contribute significantly to sustainable energy production around the world.