With Nanogenerators, Cellphone use Powers Itself

Michigan State University | Msutoday.msu.edu

Scientists at Michigan State University made a huge advance in minuscule technology. Researchers used nanogenerators to allow touchscreens to generate power using the force of a standard swipe, which might add the human hand to the list of renewable resources utilized in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Mobile technology has revolutionized how societies communicate, and touchscreens have become the control method of choice for mobile devices ranging from media players to phones and tablets. Now, with nanogenerators, those same touchscreens could be put to use in an innovative new way: producing energy.

Battery life is one of the most important aspects of a mobile device because it determines how long it takes before measures need to be taken to keep it from running out of power. Rather than create a newer, better battery, however, researchers at Michigan State University have successfully created a way for an LCD touch screen to power itself using nothing more than the methods that are already used to control them: finger swipes and taps.

Nanogenerators: A new Paradigm for Power

The new development relies on a cross between nanotechnology and LCD screens: using a nanogenerator called a biocompatible ferroelectric nanogenerator, or FENG, layered within an LCD touch screen.

This new development relies on a cross between nanotechnology and LCD screens: using a nanogenerator called a biocompatible ferroelectric nanogenerator, or FENG, layered within an LCD touch screen.Click To Tweet

The FENG is a thin sheet of layered materials loaded with charged ions that produce electrical energy when compressed. As reported by Nano Energy, the electricity generating effect of the FENG is due to relatively large dipoles arranged on different layers that react when pushed together, creating an electrical potential that devices can harness for energy.

The researchers used the FENG to successfully operate an LCD touch screen, an array of 20 LED lights, and a flexible keyboard, all without using a battery; merely touching the screen was enough to give it power.

Other self-powered devices are using already developed technology such as piezoelectric or triboelectric generators, but the FENG provides an entirely new way to produce sustainable power for your mobile devices.

The Future is Calling

The implications of the FENG are interesting. While it has obvious uses for mobile devices, the new technology offers a low-cost method without use of any toxic materials. It can be utilized in an impressive range of devices that spans not only the biocompatible but also the implanted. For example, the FENG might be just the thing to power newly developed devices that allow the disabled to reclaim the use of the parts of their body that have failed them.

One interesting feature of the FENG is that using it causes it to become more powerful. According to Nelson Sepulveda, each time the device is folded upon itself, it’s potential to make voltages increases exponentially. So, while it may be small, it can create a lot of power. Whether or not that power would be dangerous is unclear, but it does leave one to wonder how much power would be generated by putting a FENG inside a shoe. Would reaching the maximum limit be dangerous?

For personal uses, this may mean that your battery will take much longer to drain with a FENG installed. For those looking for the bigger picture, this kind of technology could further reduce the need for harmful fossil fuels to keep up with modern energy needs.

The research is still in the early stages of development, so time will tell us if the FENG becomes commercially viable. Those of us who are always running out of power on their phones or tablets will hope it does.

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