Flexible generators turn movement into energy

Flexible generators turn movement into energy
An electron microscope image shows a cross-section of a laser-induced graphene and polyimide composite created at Rice University for use as a triboelectric nanogenerator. The devices are able to turn movement into energy that can then be stored for later use. Credit: Tour Group/Rice University

Wearable devices that harvest energy from movement are not a new idea, but a material created at Rice University may make them more practical.

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour has adapted laser-induced graphene (LIG) into small, metal-free devices that generate electricity. Like rubbing a balloon on hair, putting LIG composites in contact with other surfaces produces that can be used to .

For that, thank the triboelectric effect, by which gather a charge through contact. When they are put together and then pulled apart, surface charges build up that can be channeled toward .

In experiments, the researchers connected a folded strip of LIG to a string of light-emitting diodes and found that tapping the strip produced enough energy to make them flash. A larger piece of LIG embedded within a flip-flop let a wearer generate energy with every step, as the graphene composite's repeated contact with skin produced a current to charge a small capacitor.

"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," Tour said.

Flexible generators turn movement into energy
Rice University postdoctoral researcher Michael Stanford holds a flip-flop with a triboelectric nanogenerator, based on laser-induced graphene, attached to the heel. Walking with the flip-flop generates electricity with repeated contact between the generator and the wearer's skin. Stanford wired the device to store energy on a capacitor. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

The project is detailed in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano.

LIG is a graphene foam produced when chemicals are heated on the surface of a polymer or other material with a laser, leaving only interconnected flakes of two-dimensional carbon. The lab first made LIG on common polyimide, but extended the technique to plants, food, treated paper and wood.

The lab turned polyimide, cork and other materials into LIG electrodes to see how well they produced energy and stood up to wear and tear. They got the best results from materials on the opposite ends of the triboelectric series, which quantifies their ability to generate static charge by contact electrification.

In the folding configuration, LIG from the tribo-negative polyimide was sprayed with a protecting coating of polyurethane, which also served as a tribo-positive material. When the electrodes were brought together, electrons transferred to the polyimide from the polyurethane. Subsequent contact and separation drove charges that could be stored through an external circuit to rebalance the built-up static charge. The folding LIG generated about 1 kilovolt, and remained stable after 5,000 bending cycles.

Lab video demonstrates that repeatedly hitting a folded triboelectric generator produced enough energy to power a series of attached light-emitting diodes. The test showed how generators based on laser-induced graphene could be used to power wearable sensors and electronics with human movement. Credit: the Tour Group

The best configuration, with electrodes of the polyimide-LIG composite and aluminum, produced voltages above 3.5 kilovolts with a peak power of more than 8 milliwatts.

"The nanogenerator embedded within a flip-flop was able to store 0.22 millijoules of electrical energy on a capacitor after a 1-kilometer walk," said Rice postdoctoral researcher Michael Stanford, lead author of the paper. "This rate of storage is enough to power wearable sensors and electronics with human movement."


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Laser-induced graphene gets tough, with help

More information: Michael G. Stanford et al, Laser-Induced Graphene Triboelectric Nanogenerators, ACS Nano (2019). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.9b02596
Journal information: ACS Nano

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Jun 01, 2019
Ahaa Just what we have been hoping for. This can be put to good use in many applications, eventually costing very little since the energy itself will be coming from the human body from what we are told.

Jun 01, 2019
""The nanogenerator embedded within a flip-flop was able to store 0.22 millijoules of electrical energy on a capacitor after a 1-kilometer walk,""

SEU do you realize exactly how minuscule .22 millijoules of energy is? The whole field of triboelectric energy is pretty much just another way to con grant dollars out of the government.


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