Chinese scientists have reportedly developed an energy harvester capable of collecting power not just from the sun but rain as well.
The energy harvester was developed by researchers from the Jiangsu Key Laboratory for Carbon-Based Functional Materials and Devices, Institute of Functional Nano & Soft Materials (FUNSOM) and the Joint International Research Laboratory of Carbon-Based Functional Materials and Devices, Soochow University in China.
According to reports, the hybrid device could produce energy from both a photovoltaic cell and a triboelectric nanogenerator or TENG. While a PV cell is known to generate power from the sun, TENG relies on the motion of raindrops to supply power.
While this is not the first time that such device has been created, the Chinese researchers claim that their invention is based on a new concept. They claim that this design improves on previous designs which are bulky and difficult to manufacture.
It is said that with its dual functionality, the energy harvester will pave the way to be able to collect energy amidst changing weather conditions.
“The biggest breakthrough in this work is that an integrated generator composed of a solar cell and a TENG was demonstrated through sharing a mutual electrode,” Zhen Wen, co-author of the study from Soochow University, said to Phys.org. “Compared to previous work, the simple design of the mutual electrode reduces the number of functional layers, which greatly improves the output efficiency.”
The Energy Harvester
In a paper published in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Nano, the researchers said that they combined a silicon heterojunction solar cell with a triboelectric polymer material, polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) to create the energy harvester.
However, the Chinese scientists consider the TENG as the vital part of the harvester. TENG is a device that can create electric charge from the friction of two materials rubbing together.
TENGs can gather power in a number of ways, from car tires hitting the road to clothing materials that are rubbing against each other. In this case, however, TENG is drawing energy from the rolling motion of raindrops on a solar panel.
“Our studies demonstrate a new concept in [the] utilization of energy during various weather conditions,” the researchers wrote on their paper.
While the researchers failed to provide further details about the energy harvester’s performance, it was reported that it achieved a peak short-circuit current of 33nA and peak open circuit voltage of 2.14 V. With these results, the researchers are confident about the potential of combining the two energy generation technologies.
“The hybrid energy harvesting system’s integrated electrode configuration can combine the advantages of high current level of a solar cell and high voltage of a TENG device,” the researchers went on to say. “Promising an efficient approach to collect energy from the environment in different weather conditions.”
However, the energy harvester has one minor drawback: the solar cell and TENG cannot work at the same time.
“Due to the design of the mutual electrode, the solar cell and nanogenerator cannot work together,” Wen explained. “So if there is a sunshower, we have to give up one function of the hybrid generator. But I don’t think that is often the case.”
In the future, the researchers hope to integrate the hybrid device into electronic clothing due to its unique design.
“Due to the unique design, it has advantages of being lightweight and having a high efficiency,” Wen went on to say. “We are now designing a fiber-shaped device and expect to weave them together as a fabric. My wish is to fabricate clothing that can generate electricity from sunshine and raindrops, and then use this electricity to power wearable electronic devices.”