According to a research project led by the University at Buffalo, New York and Institute of Semiconductors (IoP) at the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), researchers have developed a metallic tab which when connected to a human body, is capable of generating electricity from simple body movements like bending a finger. This energy could be used to power wearable devices.
A triboelectric nanogenerator or simply, a tab, can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy for electronic devices. Lead author Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor at the University at Buffalo, said, “The human body is an abundant source of energy. We thought: Why not harness it to produce our own power?”
Triboelectric charging occurs when certain materials become electrically charged after coming into contact with a different material. Most everyday static electricity is triboelectric.
The tab, detailed in the journal Nano Energy, comprises of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicon-based polymer usually used in contact lenses, sandwiched in between two thin layers of gold. One layer of gold is stretched, which then crumples when released and looks like a miniature mountain range. That same force is applied again with a simple body movement, like the bending of a finger. The motion leads to friction between the gold layers and PDMS which causes the 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 at the IoP.
For the purpose of the study, a small tab was used which delivered a voltage of 124 volts and a current of 10 micro-amps. That is not enough to quickly charge a smartphone but it did light up 48 red LED lights simultaneously.
To store energy produced by the tab, the researchers are also working on a portable battery. They have a vision of the human body becoming a power source for various wearable and self-powered electronic devices.