Imagine the reality of charging your smartphone by simply walking down the street or snapping your fingers. While it might seem like a far off dream, it’s a reality that exists right now.
In fact, flexible electronics already exist in the form of elastic display screens and wearables. However, their limited pliability has barred any significant strides in the application of such technologies. That said, a recent breakthrough may hold the answer.
A research team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) headed by Professor Keon Jae Lee developed the first practical nanogenerator, a hyper-flexible micro chip that can harvest kinetic energy to produce electricity.
The wearable devices of the future must endure repeated and extended exposure to the pressures of stretching. Despite several other researchers exploring potential avenues, the absence of appropriate electrode correspondence meant they’ve been unable to develop fully reversible energy conversion devices.
Dr. Zhong Lin Wang from the Georgia Institute of Technology said some years ago that success in the commercialisation of nanogenerators would represent a solution to people’s outlet-dependent and tethered mobile existence, as well as a turning point in the way we live our lives.
Today, Lee’s innovative nanogenerators make use of extraordinarily long silver nanowire-based stretchable electrodes that retain their shape due to their unique, non-destructive and stress-relaxation abilities. This, coupled with their inherently good piezoelectricity, is what eliminates the need for any external power source.
In a recent performance test, the efficiency of this latest piezoelectric nanogenerator from KAIST improved upon the previous world record for energy efficiency by a factor of 40 via an inorganic-based laser lift-off process.
The lightweight energy harvester is capable of generating high power outputs (~250 V) or enough to power 100 LED lights according to Professor Lee, with no significant signs of durability degradation over at least 104 cycles.
The Far-Reaching Effects Of Nanogenerator Technology
This new technology can work from the minute movements of the human body, including those caused by the heartbeat and respiratory activities. Nanongenorators of this sort are finding ever-expanding biomedical applications.
One other additional benefit for the widespread use and implementation of nanogenerators is their positive impact on the environment. Aside from drawing the energy they require from renewable resources like kinetic energy via movement, they’re also made from materials that are more environmentally friendly when compared to conventional batteries.
In the context of an increasingly interconnected digital world, many additional doors have been opened for piezoelectricity in everyday gadgets and, in particular, consumer electronics.
In fact, everything from diesel fuel injectors and sonar equipment to some dot-matrix printers are able to make use of piezoelectricity.
As the demand from both industry and the average customer continues to rise, it’s likely we’ll begin to see many more small-scale applications. Due to the size and relatively limited power of such nanogenerators, it will likely be some time before the technology can support the energy demands of larger devices such as laptops.
In the meantime, KAIST’s latest nanogenerator will stand as a monument to what’s possible with the new system – and what it may be able to change in the future.
At the very least, the breakthrough should spark a conversation between the scientific community and the manufacturers from industries with an immediate use for self-sustaining power.