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Researchers Tap Power In Motion

posted 5 Jan 2014, 13:59 by Mpelembe   [ updated 5 Jan 2014, 14:00 ]

Researchers at Georgia Tech are developing technology that can harvest the power of motion, an energy source they say could one day produce enough clean, renewable electricity to power the planet.

ATLANTAGEORGIAUNITED STATES  (REUTERS) -  A bank of tiny lights, blinking inside a lab at Georgia Tech, represent a potentially limitless source of clean renewable energy. They are being powered by tribo-electric generators, technology that harnesses the power of motion and friction.

Georgia Tech researchers are harvesting electrostatic energy with materials they are developing, thin sheets of plastic that require nothing more than a simple foot-fall to become electrically charged. That charge is then used to power the lights.

Lead researcher Z.L Wang believes the power of motion could be the answer the world's growing energy demands, which is why he has been looking for ways to harness it for more than 20 years.

"We invented the world's first nano-generator, at the time it was very very tiny and the output power was a pico to femto watt, almost useless, but we didn't give it up the dream. The important thing is that you have to chase the dream," said Wang, a professor of Material Science and Engineering.

Wang's says his dream is now closer to reality than ever before. Since the research began the team have managed to increase their power output by a factor of 100,000, with a single square meter sheet generating 400 watts of power. They've accomplished this by printing nano-scale patterns onto the sheets, which increases contact area and creates more friction.

Wang admits, 400 watts may not seem like much, but he says if laid along busy streets and sidewalks, his tribo-electric generators could absorb enough power from contact with cars and pedestrians, to power parts of a city's infrastructure.

Using the same type of technology, Wang is also looking to harvest tidal power, the motion of waves..

"In the west and east of the United States, the coastal areas, the calculation shows that 31 terra watts of electricity can be generated. Thirty one terra watts is twice of today's world energy consumption, if you can do that. Now if you can do that than energy is not an issue anymore," he said.

But before tackling the world's energy needs, Wang says he first needs to prove that the technology works efficiently on a smaller scale. So he wants to make cellphones that will never run out of charge.

"We need to have a breakthrough point, a niche application and this is the way to solve that problem. When you get the public's interest in that then you can expand. So now we are trying to narrow down to a couple of niche applications starting with next year to truly make a commercial application starting with, for example, has we charge our cell phone? By this," Wang said as he rubs his hands together to demonstrate friction.

Wang is confident of success. He says that a viable source of clean, renewable energy has been with us all along and his Tribo-Electric Nano generator is ready to tap into it.