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article imageTriboelectrics: a new form of energy harvesting

By Tim Sandle     Dec 22, 2017 in Science
Triboelectrics is a new area of science and technology, a field that investigates an alternate form of energy harvesting and a type of self-healing material. One potential is to generate a wave energy; another is with self-healing rubber.
If self-healing polymers are making headway, why not self-healing electronics? Technology analysts at IDTechEx have assessed the technology and potential commercialization of triboelectrics. In a new report the potential of the technology receives a positive review.
This review is based on different strands of research. Triboelectrics is when certain materials become electrically charged after they come into frictional contact with a different material.
For example, Professor Zhong Wang at Georgia Tech is looking into nanogenerators based on triboelectrics, where energy can be generated from wave power. Here it is calculated that one square kilometer of wave blanket triboelectrically has the potential to generate a megawatt of wave energy. In addition, there is a positive environmental feature since this process could also reduce coastal erosion.
A second area of interest is with self-healing electronics. In separate research, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences scientists have developed a new type of rubber which is as tough as natural rubber. It has another feature of industrial benefit: it can self-heal.
Rubber does not ordinarily lend itself to self-healing since it is formed from polymers connected by permanent, covalent bonds. These bonds, when broken, do not reconnect. Triboelectrics enables rubber to become self-healable. This type of technology would of greater interest to smartphone manufacturers.
This self-healing material can be formed via a molecular rope that can connect different two types of bonds together. Initial research shows this to be possible and the test product has good optical transparency, toughness, and self-healing ability. However, there remains further research work to be completed before a commercial product is possible.
Another application is polyether-thioureas polymer glass, a research project from the University of Tokyo. The glass is designed to heal breaks when pressed together by hand without the need for high heat to melt the material. This would an important use in terms of smartphone screens.
Commenting on the report, the chief executive of IDTechEx, Raghu Das, told Digital Journal: “We think there is scope for collaboration here. Triboelectrics are mainly based on polymers including rubbers as with the admirable work at the University of Wisconsin Madison on generating large amounts of electricity from triboelectric tires.”
The IDTechEx report is titled: “Triboelectric Energy Harvesting TENG 2017-2027.”
More about Triboelectrics, materials, materials science