You may not be familiar with the word “triboelectricity” but you’ve probably experienced it. It’s the phenomenon of a material becoming charged electrically when it comes it contact with another through friction. For example, when you get sparks by running a comb through your air (something that may be more familiar to some of us than others). Or when you produce a spark after walking across a wool rug.
Researchers at Georgia Tech are attempting to capture, store, and use the energy produced through the triboelectric effect:
A professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Wang is using what’s technically known as the triboelectric effect to create surprising amounts of electric power by rubbing or touching two different materials together. He believes the discovery can provide a new way to power mobile devices such as sensors and smartphones by capturing the otherwise wasted mechanical energy from such sources as walking, the wind blowing, vibration, ocean waves or even cars driving by.
Beyond generating power, the technology could also provide a new type of self-powered sensor, allowing detection of vibrations, motion, water leaks, explosions – or even rain falling. The research has been supported by a variety of sponsors, including the National Science Foundation; U.S. Department of Energy; MANA, part of the National Institute for Materials in Japan; Korean corporation Samsung and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The research has been reported in journals including ACS Nano, Advanced Materials, Angewandte Chemie, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Nano Energy and Nano Letters.
“We are able to deliver small amounts of portable power for today’s mobile and sensor applications,” said Wang, a Regents professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. “This opens up a source of energy by harvesting power from activities of all kinds.”
That isn’t a completely novel idea. People have been trying to do this for years but success has proven elusive. My off-hand guess is that triboelectricity has certain niche applications, particularly in the area of self-powered sensors, and the effect receiving more attention and study may result in some of these applications being exploited.