“Nearly everyone has zapped their finger on a doorknob or seen child’s hair stick to a balloon. To incorporate this energy into our electronics, we must better understand the driving forces behind it,” said Dr James Chen, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo in New York state.
Chen and Dr Zayd Leseman, associate professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering at Kansas State University, are conducting research on the triboelectric effect, where one material becomes electrically charged after it contacts a different material through friction. The research to improve the model of operation is a mix of disciplines, including contact mechanics, solid mechanics, materials science, electrical engineering and manufacturing.
With computer models and physical experiments, they are developing triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) which are capable of controlling and harvesting static electricity.
“The idea our study presents directly answers this ancient mystery, and it has the potential to unify the existing theory. The numerical results are consistent with the published experimental observations,” said Chen.
“The friction between your fingers and your smartphone screen. The friction between your wrist and smartwatch. Even the friction between your shoe and the ground. These are great potential sources of energy that we can to tap into,” he said. “Ultimately, this research can increase our economic security and help society by reducing our need for conventional sources of power.”