The Triboelectric Effect
As sources of renewable energy, sun and wind have one major disadvantage: it isn’t always sunny or windy. Waves in the ocean, on the other hand, are never still. American researchers are now aiming to use waves to produce energy by making use of contact electrification between a patterned plastic nanoarray and water. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, they have introduced an inexpensive and simple prototype of a triboelectric nanogenerator that could be used to produce energy and as a chemical or temperature sensor.
The triboelectric effect is the build up of an electric charge between two materials through contact and separation – it is commonly experienced when removal of a shirt, especially in dry air, results in crackling. Zhong Lin Wang and his team, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA, have previously developed a triboelectric generator based on two solids that produces enough power to charge a mobile telephone battery. However, high humidity interferes with its operation. How could this technology work with waves in water? The triboelectric effect is not limited to solids; it can also occur with liquids. The only requirement is that specific electronic energy levels of two substances are close enough together. Water just needs the right partner – maybe a suitable plastic.
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