Tiny device harvests energy to power mobile phones

Monday, 19 October, 2020

Tiny device harvests energy to power mobile phones

Australian researchers led by Flinders University are ‘scavenging’ invisible power from low-frequency vibrations in the surrounding environment, including wind, air or even contact-separation energy (static electricity).

Professor Youhong Tang, from Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering, explains that the so-called triboelectric nanogenerators (or ‘TENGs’) can be made at low cost in different configurations.

This means they can be used to power small electronics such as mobile phones, biomechanics devices such as pacemakers, sensors (temperature/pressure/chemical sensors) and more.

The Georgia Institute of Technology in the US fabricated the first generation of TENGs about 10 years ago. Flinders University strives to design cost-effective and high-efficient sliding and rotary TENGs for further development and possible commercialisation. Researchers are also focusing on numerically predicting the outputs of TENGs by measuring their voltage, current, power and energy under various electric specifications and geometries of dielectric films.

With further research, this renewable form of energy harvesting could be enhanced by designing simple fabrication from cheap and sustainable materials, with high efficiency.

“They can use non-invasive materials, so could one day be used for implantable and wearable energy harvesting aims,” said PhD candidate Mohammad Khorsand, co-lead author on recent papers in international journal Nano Energy.

The latest paper uses AI-enhanced mathematical modelling to compare the function of the number of segments, rotational speed and tribo-surface spacing of an advanced TENG prototype to optimise storage and performance.

“We have been able to effectively harvest power from sliding movement and rotary motion, which are abundantly available in our living environment,” Professor Tang said.

This research on the next generation of TENG uses AI and simulation modelling to reduce the cost of repeating the experiment for various conditions. Researchers are also working to improve the power generation of TENGs and store the generated power on supercapacitor or battery.

Image credit: Flinders University

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