TriboElectricity, The Green Energy Source

Researchers from Clemson’s Nanomaterials Institute (CNI) are one step closer to wirelessly powering the world using triboelectricity, a green energy source. In March 2017, a group of physicists at CNI invented the ultra-simple triboelectric nanogenerator or U-TENG, a small device made of plastic and tape that generates electricity from motion and vibrations. When the two materials are brought together — through such actions as clapping the hands or tapping feet — they generate voltage that is detected by a wired, external circuit. Electrical energy, by way of the circuit, is then stored in a capacitor or a battery until it’s needed.

Nine months later, in a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, the researchers reported that they had created a wireless TENG, called the W-TENG, which greatly expands the applications of the technology. The W-TENG was engineered under the same premise as the U-TENG using materials that are so opposite in their affinity for electrons that they generate a voltage when brought in contact with each other.

In the W-TENG, plastic was swapped for a multipart fiber made of graphene — a single layer of graphite, or pencil lead — and a biodegradable polymer known as polylactic acid (PLA). PLA on its own is great for separating positive and negative charges, but not so great at conducting electricity, which is why the researchers paired it with graphene. Kapton tape, the electron-grabbing material of the U-TENG, was replaced with Teflon, a compound known for coating nonstick cooking pans.

After assembling the graphene-PLA fiber, the researchers pulled it into a 3-D printer and the W-TENG was born. The end result is a device that generates a maximum of 3,000 volts — enough to power 25 standard electrical outlets or, on a grander scale, smart-tinted windows or a liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor. Because the voltage is so high, the W-TENG generates an electric field around itself that can be sensed wirelessly. Its electrical energy, too, can be stored wirelessly in capacitors and batteries.

It cannot only give you energy, but you can use the electric field also as an actuated remote. For example, you can tap the W-TENG and use its electric field as a ‘button’ to open your garage door, or you could activate a security system — all without a battery, passively and wirelessly,” said Sai Sunil Mallineni, the first author of the study and a Ph.D. student in physics and astronomy.


The Rise Of The Cyborg

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Connecticut have designed a new biofriendly energy storage system called a biological supercapacitor, which operates using charged particles, or ions, from fluids in the human body. The device is harmless to the body’s biological systems, and it could lead to longer-lasting cardiac pacemakers and other implantable medical devices like artificial heart.

The UCLA team was led by Richard Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, and the Connecticut researchers were led by James Rusling, a professor of chemistry and cell biology. A paper about their design was published this week in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

Pacemakers — which help regulate abnormal heart rhythms — and other implantable devices have saved countless lives. But they’re powered by traditional batteries that eventually run out of power and must be replaced, meaning another painful surgery and the accompanying risk of infection. In addition, batteries contain toxic materials that could endanger the patient if they leak.

The researchers propose storing energy in those devices without a battery. The supercapacitor they invented charges using electrolytes from biological fluids like blood serum and urine, and it would work with another device called an energy harvester, which converts heat and motion from the human body into electricity — in much the same way that self-winding watches are powered by the wearer’s body movements. That electricity is then captured by the supercapacitor.

Combining energy harvesters with supercapacitors can provide endless power for lifelong implantable devices that may never need to be replaced,” said Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the study.