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New Device Captures and Stores Wind Energy from Even Light Breezes

A majority of the wind available on land is too mild to drive commercial wind turbine blades, but this issue can be solved by a novel “tiny wind turbine” developed by scientists in China. The wind turbine can scavenge wind energy from even mild breezes generated by a brisk walk.

Triboelectric Nanogenerator Flapping Plastic Strips

The video shows the two plastic strips from the triboelectric nanogenerator flapping in sync for energy generation in slow motion. Video Credit: Chen, Ma, and Ren et al./Cell Reports Physical Science.

Published in the Cell Reports Physical Science journal on September 23rd, 2020, the technique offers an economical and efficient means of collecting light breezes as a micro-energy source.

Technically, the new device is not a turbine but rather a nanogenerator made of a pair of plastic strips in a tube that claps or flutter together when there airflow.

Similar to rubbing a balloon on one’s hair, the two plastic strips become electrically charged once they are separated from contact. This phenomenon is known as the triboelectric effect. However, rather than making one’s hair to stand up like Einstein’s, the electricity produced by the two plastic strips is trapped and stored.

You can collect all the breeze in your everyday life. We once placed our nanogenerator on a person’s arm, and a swinging arm's airflow was enough to generate power.

Ya Yang, Study Senior Author, Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, Chinese Academy of Sciences

A breeze as mild as 1.6 m/s (3.6 mph) was sufficient to power the triboelectric nanogenerator developed by is collaborators. The nanogenerator delivers optimum performance when the velocity of the wind ranges between 4 and 8 m/s (8.9 to 17.9 mph)—a speed that enables the two plastic strips to flutter together.

In addition, the device has a high wind-to-energy transformation efficiency of 3.23%)—a value that surpasses the formerly reported performances on wind energy scavenging. At present, the new device developed by the researchers is capable of powering up to 100 LED lights and temperature sensors.

Our intention isn't to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that the traditional wind turbines can't solve. Unlike wind turbines that use coils and magnets, where the costs are fixed, we can pick and choose low-cost materials for our device. Our device can also be safely applied to nature reserves or cities because it doesn't have the rotating structures.

Ya Yang, Study Senior Author, Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Yang added that he has two visions for the project’s next steps—one big and one small. Earlier, Yang and his collaborators had developed a nanogenerator as small as a coin, but now he wishes to make it more compact and smaller with greater efficiency.

In the days to come, Yang and his collaborators would like to integrate the new device into tiny electronic devices, like phones, to offer lasting electric power. However, Yang is also exploring ways to make the device bigger and stronger.

I’m hoping to scale up the device to produce 1,000 watts, so it's competitive with traditional wind turbines. We can place these devices where traditional wind turbines can't reach. We can put it in the mountains or on the top of buildings for sustainable energy.

Ya Yang, Study Senior Author, Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, Chinese Academy of Sciences

The study was financially supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, the Chongqing University Scientific Research Reserve Top Talent Cultivation Program, and the Defense Key Disciplines Lab of Novel Micronano Devices and Systems Technology.

Additional support was provided by the External Cooperation Program of BIC, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the 2015 Annual Beijing Talents Fund, the Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology, the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Graduate Scientific Research and Innovation Foundation of Chongqing, China.

Journal Reference:

Chen, X., et al. (2020) A Triboelectric Nanogenerator Exploiting the Bernoulli Effect for Scavenging Wind Energy. Cell Reports Physical Science.


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