As part of a new project, scientists at China’s National Center for Nanoscience and Technology have developed an innovative triboelectric nanogenerator called STENG that is just as flexible as human skin. Like other triboelectric devices, the contraption produces electricity as a result of friction between two different materials. A paper describing its potential uses has recently been published in the Science Advances journal.
For the uninitiated, the triboelectric effect refers to static electricity that is generated when two materials are rubbed against each other. The flow of surface electrons from one substance to the other is what creates an electrical charge. Made from a mixture of elastomer and an ionic hydrogel, this skin-like transparent device is incredibly flexible, boasting an astounding 1000-percent improvement over conventional triboelectric nanogenerators.
To enhance the contraption’s stretchability, the researchers changed the setup a bit, using the hydrogel as the electrode and the elastomer as the electrolyte. Being almost completely transparent, the STENG is permeable to nearly 96.2-percent light; a property that could prove useful in optical data transmission. With a power density of around 35 milliwatts-per-square-meter in open circuit arrangements, the device is capable of generating up to 145 volts of electricity, even at temperatures as high as 30 degrees-Celsius and humidity of about 30-percent.
As pointed out by the researchers, the contraption is built using materials that are easily available as well as cheap. Once fully developed, the STENG could be used as a wearable device, which when attached to the user’s clothes or even skin can produce electricity on the go needed for charging small gadgets like phones, cameras and music players.
The technology, according to the team, could also be integrated into shoes, as a way of producing usable electricity from the friction between the wearer’s foot and the insole. Other applications include self-powered autonomous robots.