Nanogenerator Harvests Mechanical Energy

A nanogenerator that produces a continuous flow of electricity by harvesting mechanical energy from a variety of sources, including ultrasonic waves, mechanical movement or even blood flow was reported by the Georgia Institute of Technology. A prototype was reported upon in the April 6 issue of Science by Professor Zhong Lin Wang of the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech.


(Prototype DC nanogenerator closeup)

Dr. Zhong Lin Wang stated:

“This is a major step toward a portable, adaptable and cost-effective technology for powering nanoscale devices. There has been a lot of interest in making nanodevices, but we have tended not to think about how to power them. Our nanogenerator allows us to harvest or recycle energy from many sources to power these devices.”

The prototype nanogenerators use the following interesting properties of zinc oxide nanostructures; they show both piezoelectric and semiconducting features.

When these tiny wires are moved by mechanical energy, the nanowires transfer their minute electrical charges. By capturing the output of large numbers of nanowires in motion, the prototype nanogenerator produces a direct current output in the nano-Ampere range.


(Prototype DC nanogenerator w/array of zinc oxide nanowires)

Dr. Wang and his group believe that the nanowires could produce as much as 4 watts per cubic centimeter. “If you had a device like this in your shoes when you walked, you would be able to generate your own small current to power small electronics,” Wang noted. “Anything that makes the nanowires move within the generator can be used for generating power. Very little force is required to move them.”

Science fiction fans are always looking for ways to enable the creation of their favorite devices. For example, the stillsuit from Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune made use of the body's own mechanical energy to provide power for the suit, which captured perspiration and other body moisture and processed it for reuse.

It's basically a micro-sandwich; a high-efficiency filter and heat-exchange system. The skin-contact layer is porous. Perspiration passes through it, having cooled the body. Motions of the body, especially breathing, and [heel-powered pumps] provide the pumping force. With a Fremen suit in good working order, you won't lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day...
(Read more about the dune stillsuit)

Read more stories about other attempts at harvesting power from mechanical motion:

Read more about how a Nanogenerator Provides Continuous Electrical Power.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/11/2007)

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