Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Developing New Sources of Energy: Self-powered nanogenerator uses body movements to generate electricity, transmit data wirelessly

June 27, 2011

Nanogenerators

Scientists are reporting development of the
first 
self-powered nano-device that can
transmit 
data wirelessly over long distances.


Credit: American Chemical Society

Summary

Imagine being able to charge an iPod or cell phone with
the snap of the fingers or simply by walking. These and
other sustainable electronics advances may be possible in
the future thanks to the development of the first practical
nanogenerator, a tiny flexible chip that produces electricity
using body movements. Scientists also showed for the
first time that they could integrate such a nanogenerator
into an electronic circuit that wirelessly transmits data to a
commercial radio at a distance of 30 feet. Those two
advances help prove the feasibility of a futuristic genre of
tiny implantable sensors, airborne and stationary surveillance cameras and sensors and other devices that operate without batteries on energy collected from the environment.
 
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Imagine being able to charge an iPod or cell phone with the snap of the fingers or simply by walking. These and other sustainable electronics advances may be possible in the future thanks to the development of the first practical nanogenerator, a tiny flexible chip that produces electricity using body movements. At a recent national meeting of the American Chemical Society, lead scientist Zhong Lin Wang of the Georgia Institute of Technology described boosting the power output of the nanogenerator by thousands of times and its voltage by 150 times.

And the news gets even better. In a development reported in the ACS journal Nano Letters, Dr. Wang and his colleagues also showed for the first time that they could integrate such a nanogenerator into an electronic circuit that wirelessly transmits data to a commercial radio at a distance of 30 feet. Those two advances help prove the feasibility of a futuristic genre of tiny implantable sensors, airborne and stationary surveillance cameras and sensors and other devices that operate without batteries on energy collected from the environment. Here’s Dr. Wang:

“If we can sustain the rate of improvement, the nanogenerator may find a broad range of other applications that require more power.

He cited, for example, personal electronic devices powered by footsteps activating nanogenerators inside the sole of a shoe; implanted insulin pumps powered by a heartbeat; and environmental sensors powered by nanogenerators flapping in the breeze.

Dr. Wang plans to improve the power output of the nanogenerator. He hopes that the device will be ready to move from the laboratory to the market in three to five years.

“This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics that can be powered by body movements without the use of batteries or electrical outlets. Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future. Their potential is only limited by one’s imagination.”

Wang and colleagues have developed a nanogenerator powerful enough to drive commercial liquid-crystal displays and light-emitting diodes or LEDs like those used in calculators and computers. The power came from squeezing the nanogenerator between two fingers.

Here again is Dr. Wang:

“This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics that can be powered by body movements without the use of batteries or electrical outlets. Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future. Their potential is only limited by one’s imagination.”

Wang and colleagues have developed a nanogenerator powerful enough to drive commercial liquid-crystal displays and light-emitting diodes or LEDs like those used in calculators and computers. The power came from squeezing the nanogenerator between two fingers. Here again is Dr. Wang:

“If we can sustain the rate of improvement, the nanogenerator may find a broad range of other applications that require more power.

He cited, for example, personal electronic devices powered by footsteps activating nanogenerators inside the sole of a shoe; implanted insulin pumps powered by a heartbeat; and environmental sensors powered by nanogenerators flapping in the breeze.

Dr. Wang plans to improve the power output of the nanogenerator. He hopes that the device will be ready to move from the laboratory to the market in three to five years.

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Mark Sampson. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.