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This Paper "Slinky" Could Power Internet of Things

Slinky-like devices generate small amounts of power from the same effect behind static electricity

2 min read
This Paper "Slinky" Could Power Internet of Things
The slinky structure can be easily stretched and recombined to generate electricity.
Photo: Georgia Institute of Technology

Origami that harvests energy from the same effect behind most static electricity could eventually be used to power electronics in a cheap, lightweight, environmentally friendly way.

Static electricity usually results from a phenomenon called triboelectricity. When two different materials repeatedly come into contact and then separate, the surface of one material can steal electrons from the surface of the other. This is why rubbing your feet on a carpet or a running comb through your hair can build up static electricity.

Scientists have now developed origami that could take advantage of triboelectricity to power devices. The fact that paper "is probably the most popular and cheap material available" could make triboelectric generators cheap, recyclable, and widely used, said researcher Zhong Lin Wang, a nanotechnologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

The researchers started with regular printer paper, and then use glue sticks to paste on thin sheets of aluminum foil and Teflon. This paper was then folded into Slinky and other shapes.

When the Slinky origami was compressed, the paper and Teflon came into contact, and when this force was released, they separated, resulting in triboelectric charging. Electricity could then flow out the aluminum foil via copper wires. The prototype slinky provided a voltage of 20 V, a current of 2 micro-amperes, and a peak power density of 0.14 watts per square meter, enough to light up four commercial LEDs simultaneously. The origami could also serve as a simple pressure sensor when connected to a voltage meter — for example, it could distinguish coins of different weights based on the voltages that resulted when the coins were dropped on the origami.

Wang said this strategy could work with many other materials — "fabric, plastics, rubber, metal and ceramics," he noted. "Our goal is to use this technology as an effective power supply for an 'Internet of Things' and sensor networks."

The scientists detailed their findings online Jan. 2 in the journal ACS Nano.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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