The device was developed by a team led by Dr. Zhong Lin Wang. Its charge comes from zinc oxide nanowires, which generate an electrical current when flexed or strained. Because the nanowires are so tiny (500 of them can fit inside the width of a human hair), Wang’s team was able to deposit millions of them onto flexible polymer chips, each chip about a quarter the size of a postage stamp. When five of the chips – each one a separate nanogenerator – were stacked together, their combined output current was about 1 microampere at 3 volts. That’s over 150 times the voltage that the team first achieved six years ago, and is about equivalent to that generated by two regular AA batteries.
“This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics that can be powered by body movements without the use of batteries or electrical outlets,” he said. “Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future. Their potential is only limited by one’s imagination.”
Georgia Tech is now looking for a company interested in producing the nanogenerator commercially, with Wang estimating that it could hit the market within three to five years. Its first use could be in environmental sensors, which would store power in a capacitor, then use it to wirelessly transmit data.