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Energy Harvesters Get Standards

Hand holding an energy harvesterPhoto: Rob Felt

More than 60 research groups worldwide are developing variations of the triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG), which converts ambient mechanical energy into electricity for powering wearable electronics, sensor networks, implantable medical devices, and other small systems.

To give researchers and developers a way to select the best energy-harvesting nanogenerator for each specific application, the Georgia Tech research group that pioneered the TENG technology has now proposed a set of standards for quantifying device performance. The proposed standards evaluate both the structural and materials performance of the four major types of TENG devices.

“Triboelectric nanogenerators are a new energy technology that has shown phenomenal potential,” said Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. “Here, we have proposed standards by which the performance of these devices can be quantified and compared. These standards will be useful for academic researchers developing the devices and for future industrial applications of the nanogenerators.”

Triboelectric nanogenerators use a combination of the triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction to generate small amounts of electrical power from mechanical motions such as rotation, sliding, or vibration. The triboelectric effect takes advantage of the fact that certain materials become electrically charged after they come into moving contact with a surface made from a different material. The electricity generated by TENG devices could replace or supplement batteries for a broad range of potential applications.

Developed over the past several years, the technology has advanced to the point where it can power small electronic devices — potentially enabling widespread sensing and infrastructure systems — as well as wearable consumer devices.

The proposed standards were described in the journal Nature Communications

— John Toon

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