First practical nanogenerator produces electricity with pinch of the fingers

Mar 29, 2011

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 here today at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, 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.

The key to the technology is zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires. ZnO nanowires are piezoelectric — they can generate an electric current when strained or flexed. That movement can be virtually any body movement, such as walking, a heartbeat, or blood flowing through the body. The nanowires can also generate electricity in response to wind, rolling tires, or many other kinds of movement.

The diameter of a ZnO nanowire is so small that 500 of the wires can fit inside the width of a single human hair. Wang's group found a way to capture and combine the electrical charges from millions of the nanoscale zinc oxide wires. They also developed an efficient way to deposit the nanowires onto flexible polymer chips, each about a quarter the size of a postage stamp. Five nanogenerators stacked together produce about 1 micro Ampere output current at 3 volts — about the same voltage generated by two regular AA batteries (about 1.5 volts each).

"While a few volts may not seem like much, it has grown by leaps and bounds over previous versions of the nanogenerator," said Wang, a scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology. "Additional nanowires and more nanogenerators, stacked together, could produce enough energy for powering larger electronics, such as an iPod or charging a cell phone."

Wang said the next step is to further improve the output power of the nanogenerator and find a company to produce the nanogenerator. It could hit the market in three to five years, he estimated. The device's first application is likely to be as a power source for tiny environmental sensors and sensors for infrastructure monitoring.

Explore further: Simpler process to grow germanium nanowires could improve lithium ion batteries

Related Stories

New material could efficiently power tiny generators

Oct 22, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- To power a very small device like a pacemaker or a transistor, you need an even smaller generator. The components that operate the generator are smaller yet, and the efficiency of those foundational components ...

Running Hamsters Can Power Nano Devices (Video)

Feb 12, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Among the vast number of untapped energy sources are finger taps, heartbeats, and even hamsters running on exercise wheels. In a recent study, researchers from Georgia Tech have shown that ...

Nanogenerators for energy harvesting technology

Jul 09, 2010

The journal, Nano Letters, recently published an article highlighting the fascinating nanogenerators developed by Dr. Yong Shi, a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stevens Institute of Technology. The pa ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Beard
not rated yet Apr 02, 2011
Imagine naturally iridescent nanotech clothing shimmering in the sunlight as it passively delivers power to your supercomputer strength augmented reality goggles as you stroll down the street.

It's kind of unsettling, but profoundly exciting, that what would be considered absolute science fiction thirty years ago is now almost at inception and will one day be ordinary.
kaasinees
not rated yet Apr 02, 2011
Just like the computeras in the first startrek were science fiction back then. haha
Sonhouse
not rated yet Apr 02, 2011
Just like the computeras in the first startrek were science fiction back then. haha


What's a computeras?
Quantum_Conundrum
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2011
Just like the computeras in the first startrek were science fiction back then. haha


Well, I don't know, the fictional computers in Star Trek: Voyager are pretty advanced, Apprantly, the main computer has at least 47 billion terraquads of unique data in storage.

Exactly what is a "quad" is unknown, but it's probably more than a "byte".

For example, if a Quad actually was a Byte, then 47 billion terraquads would only be 4.7E22 Bytes (47 Zettabytes).

Based on Moore's law and scalability, we should be able to construct at least one "47 Zettabyte" secondary storage system small enough to fit on a theoretical star ship within a few decades.

After all, you can fit around four thousand 2TB external hard drives in the volume of a single room in your house.

It's also theoretically possible to do around 1E18 bits, with error correction, in the volume of 1 cubic centimeter, so to get 47Zettabytes could theoretically fit in a volume of around 47 liters...
Quantum_Conundrum
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2011
Now returning to the room-sized storage device...

4000 * 2TB = 8Petabytes

47Zettabytes / 8Petabytes ~ factor of 2^20, or 1,048,576.

Looks big, but that should be doable within 30 to 40 years.

So within 30 to 40 years, it should be possible to fit the the Hard Drive for the Star Ship Voyager in a room the size of a typical U.S. bed room.

Also note that the 2TB device I used as a guage is actually inefficient, since if you stacked them in 3-d cubes or whatever, most of the space is wasted by redundant cases and empty space, and crap like that.

So in reality, you'd get to 47Zettabytes a lot faster than 30 to 40 years. Probably 25 to 30 years...

This device will cost around $300,000 U.S.(2011)...