After six years of intensive effort, scientists are reporting development of the first commercially viable nanogenerator, a flexible chip that can use body movements — a finger pinch now en route to a pulse beat in the future — to generate electricity.
Speaking on March 29 at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California, they described boosting the device’s power output by thousands times and its voltage by 150 times to finally move it out of the lab and toward everyday life.
“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.”
The latest improvements have resulted in a nanogenerator powerful enough to drive commercial liquid-crystal displays, light-emitting diodes and laser diodes. By storing the generated charges using a capacitor, the output power is capable to periodically drive a sensor and transmit the signal wirelessly.
“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.
Wang and colleagues demonstrated commercial feasibility of the latest nanogenerator by using it to power an LED light and a liquid crystal display like those widely used in many electronic devices, such as calculators and computers. The power came from squeezing the nanogenerator between two fingers.
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