Professor Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech has been championing his work in exploiting the piezoelectric qualities of zinc oxide nanowires for years now with his so-called "nanogenerators".
Now researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have taken up the mantle of Wang’s work by creating a piezoelectric “nanogenerator” more easily and cheaply than ever before.
The research, which was initially published in the Wiley journal Advanced Materials, produced a piezoelectric nanocomposite through relatively simple processes such as spin-casting and the bar-coating method. So this new generation of “nanogenerators” is not restricted by a complicated and high-cost process or even size.
Even Wang himself is impressed by this work. “This exciting result first introduces a nanocomposite material into the self-powered energy system, and therefore it can expand the feasibility of nanogenerator in consumer electronics, ubiquitous sensor networks, and wearable clothes," says Wang.
The lead researcher on this project, Keon Jae Lee, a Professor at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST, has a comprehensive website that covers much of the work.
One of the videos from that website (below) manages to demonstrate just how uncomplicated the process is to create this nanocomposite and shows how it works in generating an electric charge from the movement of a finger.
While Wang has been expert at getting this research into the media, it hasn't yet found itself in commercial products. It should be interesting to see if these manufacturing simplifications and cost reductions will help push this technology into consumer electronics where Wang always envisioned it could be.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.