A new membrane can significantly upgrade portable power generators

The movement of the body may soon become electrified as never before.

Scientists have created a new membrane – or triboelectric tissue – capable of generating energy from body movement while maintaining the flexibility and breathability of modern clothing, according to a recent study. published in the journal Nano energy.

So far, the technology can only power LED lights and calculators, but this is a significant step towards the future of wearable devices.

Power fibers can “catch” and help maintain a charge that can be carried

The technology behind the new material is called triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), and key advances in the release have included overcoming the common obstacles faced by charging carriers: plenty of discomfort, lack of breathing and rigidity. So in response, a team of scientists from China and Japan have successfully developed a new multilayer TENG using the unique properties of electrospin fibers. They also inserted nanowires and a polystyrene charge storage layer to withstand power dissipation. This offers both higher electrical performance and improved durability, according to the publication. The triboelectric effect is key to charging from body motion, which occurs when two different materials move away from each other after contact. Triboelectric nanogenerators use this effect to transform mechanical motion into usable electrical energy.

“The compactness of TENGs allows them to be used as wearable devices that can harness the body’s motion to power electronics,” said a press release shared with IE. “As wearable, the emphasis is on the properties of the fabric (such as the comfort of the material) and the carrying capacity of the nanogenerators. Typically, triboelectric materials selected for a nanogenerator are completely safe for humans to carry (also called biocompatibility). Electrospin fibers have great potential in wearable applications because they are strong, do not weigh much and have useful electrical properties. And researchers have tried to improve this with electrospinning fibers, which can improve the electrostatic potential and charge absorption capacity of the material.

Infographics showing how the layers of the new membrane are combined with more conventional technology. Source: Fukui University

Wearing technology is on the rise

And looking for ways to achieve this, researchers from both Nanjing University in China and Fukui, Japan, have developed an all-fiber TENG composite layer (AF-TENG) that easily integrates with a conventional towel. “Through our work, we seek to provide a new perspective on wearable power harvesters and smart textiles,” said Hiroaki Sakamoto, author of the study, in a press release. Two layers of electrospinning fibers are present in AF-TENG. One is a type of nylon, but the other is called polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF). These two layers are coated with silver nanowires, which are further enhanced with electrospinned polystyrene placed between the triboelectric membrane and the silver nanowires. While wearing the new complex membrane, the mechanical movement of the body (from walking or running) forces triboelectric layers to get a charge. “In this way, mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy that can be used to power electronic devices,” the statement added.

For most triboelectric devices, the material loses charge, decreasing nanogenerator performance. But by adding a polystyrene membrane, scientists have given the device the capacity to collect and “capture” charge, so it retains its charge density. In the study, researchers used AF-TENG to power 136 commercial-grade LEDs (each 0.06 watts) to prove the viability of the nanogenerator. And there’s more: “This device shows great potential for collecting static electricity from our clothes,” Sakamoto said in a statement. For now, low power devices such as LEDs will make the most of such devices. But this new membrane represents a significant step towards the future of wearable applications, which could ultimately power something much more complex. perhaps even the Apple Watch.

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