Because of the ever increasing demand by consumers, electric companies spend a lot of money on research trying to find new ways to produce electric power. These efforts are varied and occur in a wide variety of sciences from general AC creation to better battery technology to new ways to produce electricity altogether. Now a combined team of Chinese and American researchers have found, as they describe in their paper published in NANO Letters, that rubbing two unique types of polymers together causes electrons to build up in one, which can be drained off as electricity for use in electrical devices. And because of that, it appears possible the authors say in an interview with the editors at Georgia Tech Research News, that devices could be affixed to people to allow them to create their own power to drive their hand-held devices.
What happens, they say is that when the two polymers (made with special nano-materials) which are essentially types of plastic, are rubbed one against the other, electrons leap from one side to the other. This causes a buildup that slowly increases to the point where it seeps into metal bands embedded in the material which directs the flow to a battery. Once it’s in there, the electricity can be used for whatever purposes are needed. One interesting feature of the rubbing they say, is that a back and forth motion won’t do the trick. The materials can only be rubbed in one direction and then require a space to separate them before the electrons will jump.
In the interview the team suggests that people think of two blocks of wood that have their flat faces rubbed together, moving one past the other. Then, the blocks are separated and the pieces returned to their original positions where they can be once again be pressed together and rubbed. They suggest that a prime spot for use for generation of electricity using the new method would be between the thighs of a person walking. The leg movement would cause the rubbing and a gear mechanism could be used to lift the sides apart before they are carried back by the next leg movement to be rubbed again, over and over. Using such a system the team says it appears that a single person walking for less than half an hour could generate enough electricity to fully recharge a cell phone.
The team hasn’t thought about marketing their new technology as yet, but have applied for a patent, which means if such a device does eventually make it to market, it likely won’t be for quite a while.