New Device Uses Body to Create Electricity

Has your phone ever died while you were away from home? It tends to happen at the most inopportune times, like in the middle of an important call or while you’re accessing Google Maps for directions.

But what if we told you that researchers are exploring a solution that might allow you to charge your phone from anywhere? No, you won’t have to lug around a bulky charger or seek out an outlet at the nearest Starbucks.

A team from the University of Buffalo and the Institute of Semiconductors at the Chinese Academy of Science has created a gold-laced tab that generates electricity using simple body movements. It introduces the possibility that — in the near future — you might be able to charge your phone with the simple flick of a finger.

The device is called a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) and is made from two thin gold films, separated by a strip of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). PDMS is the same silicon-based material used in contact lenses.

How does TENG work? It uses friction to create electricity, during a process known as the triboelectric effect. A simple bend of a finger creates friction between the gold layers and the PDMS strip. The result is enough electricity to simultaneously power 48 red LED lights.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough electricity to charge a smartphone. The researchers are working on that, though. They plan to create larger versions that generate more energy, as well as portable batteries that can store the electricity produced by the device.

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