Turn Your Movement Into a Power Plant With This Fabric-thin Generator

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power plant
Free-Photos | Shutterstock.com

Mankind–regardless of industry–cannot survive and flourish without a continuous, sustainable power source.

Thanks to advancements in biological tech, the search for alternative sources of energy can extend beyond just solar and wind.

image of researcher at Vanderbilt University working on battery technology
John Russell | Vanderbilt University

Battery technology hasn’t grown as exponentially as other aspects of the tech world, but that could soon change. 

Vanderbilt University’s Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory experimented with electrochemical nanosheets that charge due to mechanical strain–in this case, human movement–like bending and stretching. By extrapolating that initial technology, the research team hopes to develop a power harvesting system that works as you walk or engage in movement. The coolest part: black phosphorus nanosheets which collect the energy.

image of Vanderbilt University working on battery technology
John Russell | Vanderbilt University

Eureka Alert reported on the progress of the project. “The lab’s initial studies were published in 2016. They were further inspired by a parallel breakthrough by a group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who produced a postage-stamp-sized device out of silicon and lithium that harvested energy via the effect Pint and his team were investigating.” Based on this research and the battery experiments, Vanderbilt’s team persevered with the nanosheets.

Frequency is the Key

image of black phosphorus ampoule
Alshaer666 | Wikimedia Commons

Black phosphorus makes an ideal element thanks to its ability to attract optical, electrical, and electrochemical properties. The key difference in utilizing nanosheets in this fashion is the amount of movement the harvester can translate into power. Other experimental inventions can harvest power at frequencies more than 100 hertz. To provide context for how much energy 100 hertz is, Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive, generates 5 hertz.

The Vanderbilt project seeks to make a generator that is 1/5000th the thickness of an individual human hair. This size restriction does present complications. “Although this prevents the device from storing energy, it allows it to fully exploit the voltage changes caused by bending and twisting and so produce significant amounts of electrical current in response to human motions.”

This means that the utility of the device lies in immediate power harvesting.

Practical Applications in Future Tech

Techwear is all the rage and, as we previously covered, exoskeleton research advances every day.

A razor thin device that harnesses movement for power could further revolutionize these industries. It could even mean batteries that hold ten times what the best ones hold now at a fraction of the size. It could also correspond to “light up” clothing that changes colors or patterns with a blue tooth linked app. 

What other applications could Vanderbilt University’s wearable generator powered by movement have in the future?

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