The days of multiple leads and chargers could soon be over according to new research published in the Nano Energy journal by US and Chinese scientists; who are suggesting that we may be able to use our bodies to power our electrical devices.
How does it work?
Using a small metallic tab, known as a ‘triboelectric nanogenerator’, electricity is generated when body movements cause friction between two thin gold layers and a silicon-based PDMS. Even the smallest of movements, such as bending a finger, can trigger the device.
The device is small too; at only 1.5cm long and 1cm wide, the device can deliver up to 124 volts – which is enough to power 48 LED lights. While this is certainly not enough to power electrical devices yet, the research is promising and if all goes well, scientists hope to find ways to produce these generators on a more powerful scale.
What devices will benefit from the technology?
Thermoelectric technology is nothing new, with organisations such as NASA using it for their spacecraft; however, it’s never been used commercially before.
In the future this technology could be applied to everyday devices, including smartphones and laptops. In fact, Matrix just recently unveiled their new and improved power watch; which is the only one of its kind in the world powered by our body heat.
Further afield, this technology could also prove useful in several industries, such as medical; for example, where pacemakers may no longer need to have their batteries replaced with surgical procedures if they’re powered by a thermoelectric nanogenerator.
The obvious advantage of these devices is their green credentials, with their ability to self-generate power. Pretty much any two materials can create friction, making the nanogenerators easy to manufacture. What’s more, they’re also super flexible; making them easy to wear.
Scientists therefore hope to be able to produce the tabs with larger pieces of gold in the next stages of research; which promises to deliver even more electricity.
As well as this, scientists are also working on a portable battery designed to store energy produced by our bodies.
However, it is hard to ignoring the elephant in the room. These nanogenerators are simply not as powerful as the chargers we currently use today and there is the possibility they never will be. There are also questions around whether they can maintain long-term reliability and therefore more testing needs to be done. Nanogenerators aren’t waterproof either; which could prove problematic.
While this research is certainly exciting, and offers fresh hope for renewable energy sources, it’s hard to tell how far this latest discovery will go. Would you be willing to wear large tabs on you to charge your electrical devices? Time may tell…