Humans to provide energy source for smart devices of the future

Humans to provide energy source for smart devices of the future

Scientists may have finally found a solution to effectively harvesting energy from humans into electrical energy.

Researchers from the Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging (ITFSI) from the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) explored the use of the 3D graphene foam material Gii by Integrated Graphene as an active layer in an energy generator, known as a TENG.

The investigation aimed to transform mechanical energy wasted in nature into electrical energy that could be used to power small electronic devices and sensors in the booming global market for Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

The research, published in ScienceDirect, shows that the force of a human footprint on a pressure-sensitive mat, equipped with Gii-TENG sensors, can produce enough energy to anonymously identify people entering or leaving a room. As well as providing a low cost and energy efficient solution to monitoring building occupancy, the mats could also help to optimise energy resources by, for example, controlling room temperature upon entrance or exit.

The findings of this study will be of particular interest to schools and universities who could employ the technology to link the measurement of room occupancy to a ventilating system and a CO2 monitor, reducing the volume of CO2, which has been shown to reduce the ability to focus.

Mechanical energy is one of the most abundant and versatile energy sources available in nature. For around 20 years, triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) have been investigated as a technique for converting mechanical energy from our daily actions into usable electrical energy which can power both small IoT electronic devices and sensors but also more power hungry items, such as electric cars and drones.

However, efforts to develop a commercially viable TENG have, to date, been hampered by issues relating to low durability, limited energy output and inefficiency. The addition of Gii to TENG has opened up a whole new world of possibilities due to its unique properties including high surface area, porosity, lightweight, and superior electrical properties. The energy autonomous, pressure sensing nature of Gii-TENG has the potential to transform various aspects of our lifestyles, society and economy including, for example:

  • Harvesting energy from sports, such as golf, running and tennis, to power smart devices which generate performance data.
  • Self-powered wearable biosensors for early diagnosis of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, gout and diabetes.
  • Harvesting energy from cars on roads and people walking in the creation of smart cities.
  • A smart energy solution for industry 4.0.
  • Extending the hovering time of drones, allowing transportation of parcels – and even people in the future – for longer distances and longer times.

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