Technology 3 min read

Researchers Develop Flexible Generator To Turn Movement Into Energy

A novel device developed by researchers from Rice University can now turn a person's every step into energy that can power wearable electronics.

Image Credit: Rice University

Image Credit: Rice University

Many modern day wearable devices can harvest energy from our movement.

However, the researchers at Rice University, Houston have taken it to the next level. They’ve created a new material from laser-induced graphene (LIG) to make the process more practical.

James Tour, a chemist at the Rice lab, adapted the LIG into a small metal-free device. Through a process known as the triboelectric effect, the device can generate electricity when in contact with other surfaces.

Yes, it’s precisely like rubbing a balloon on your hair.

The LIG collects charge through contact. In other words, continuously pulling the device and another surface together and apart causes surface charges to build up. With the proper equipment, users can channel the charge towards power generation.

How To Generate Energy With Every Step

In the experiment, the Rice University researchers connected a folded strip of LIG to a string of light emitting diodes. This led to an exciting discovery.

The paper published in the journal ACS Nano revealed that tapping the strip produces enough energy to cause a flash. But, the researchers decided to go bigger.

They created a larger piece of laser-induced graphene and embedded it within a flipflop. That way, the wearer can generate energy with every step.

The working principle is self-evident. Thanks to the LIG’s repeated contact with the skin, the wearer can produce enough power to charge a small capacitor.

Speaking on the project, Tour said:

“This could be a way to recharge small devices just by using the excess energy of heel strikes during walking, or swinging arm movements against the torso.”

About Laser-Induced Graphene (LIG)

LIG is a flaky foam of the atom-thick carbon. Although it has many interesting properties of its own, the material is more useful as part of a composite.

In 2014, Tour Lab made its first LIG, when it burned a thin sheet of polyimide using a commercial laser. Since then, the lab has extended the technique beyond plastic. It now includes plants, treated paper, food, and wood.

During their experiment, the researchers noted that materials on the opposite end of the triboelectric series generated the highest static charge.

A configuration, which included electrodes of the polyimide-LIG composite and aluminum can produce over 3.5 Kilovolts. It also comes with a peak power that’s more than eight milliwatts.

Postdoctoral researcher at Rice University, and lead author of the paper, Michael Stanford said:

“The nanogenerator embedded within a flipflop was able to store 0.22 millijoules of electrical energy on a capacitor after a 1-kilometer walk.”

The researcher suggests that the rate of energy storage is enough to power wearable electronics or sensors. That means, your device will never run out of juice, just as long as you keep walking.

Read More: With Nanogenerators, Cellphone use Powers Itself

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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