First Practical Nanogenerator

Now this one truly pushed me “Wow, thats cool” button. The flexible device you can see pictured here can use body movements to generate electricity.

No, its not a battery, it actually generates.

Today this prototype uses a finger pinch, but its en route to a pulse beat to do the same in the future.

“This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics that can be powered by body movements without the use of batteries or electrical outlets,” said lead scientist Zhong Lin Wang, Ph.D. “Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future. Their potential is only limited by one’s imagination.”

OK, so what can it actually do? Well, its powerful enough to drive commercial liquid-crystal displays, light-emitting diodes and laser diodes. Also, by storing the generated charges using a capacitor, the output power is capable to periodically drive a sensor and transmit the signal wirelessly.

So where will this go?

“If we can sustain the rate of improvement, the nanogenerator may find a broad range of other applications that require more power,” he added. Wang cited, for example, personal electronic devices powered by footsteps activating nanogenerators inside the sole of a shoe; implanted insulin pumps powered by a heart beat; and environmental sensors powered by nanogenerators flapping in the breeze.

Are you curious to know how this works? Well, apparently the key to the technology is zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires. ZnO nanowires are piezoelectric — they can generate an electric current when strained or flexed. That movement can be virtually any body movement, such as walking, a heartbeat, or blood flowing through the body. The nanowires can also generate electricity in response to wind, rolling tires, or many other kinds of movement.

The diameter of a ZnO nanowire is so small that 500 of the wires can fit inside the width of a single human hair. Wang’s group found a way to capture and combine the electrical charges from millions of the nanoscale zinc oxide wires. They also developed an efficient way to deposit the nanowires onto flexible polymer chips, each about a quarter the size of a postage stamp. Five nanogenerators stacked together produce about 1 micro Ampere output current at 3 volts — about the same voltage generated by two regular AA batteries (about 1.5 volts each).

Next step is to further improve the output power of the nanogenerator and find a company to produce the nanogenerator. It could hit the market in three to five years.

You can find the ACS (American Chemical Society) press release here. This device was announced on March 29 at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California.

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