How did you feel the last time you opened your electric bill?
Power is expensive. There is no getting around it. Diesel, gas, natural gas, propane and kerosene are all expensive, their rates are unpredictable and at the mercy of the global market. Water power generation is also expensive and not practical for most people to do at home. Even solar systems, which have made huge strides in the past decade, are still expensive to purchase and install.
This is why so many scientists have devoted their careers to the study of power generation and alternative energy sources. With such an aggressive push for clean, cheap, efficient and sustainable power, no idea can be “poo-pooed” as silly. No invention can be overlooked. After all, historically speaking, it has always been the eccentric visionaries who have achieved the greatest breakthroughs.
That is exactly what is being done by a group of American and Chinese scientists. The teams hail from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems. Together they have come up with a potentially revolutionary idea to use the power of the wind in an entirely new way.
The teams have invented an experimental device called a TENG, or triboelectric nanogenerator.
The device consists of plastic strips stuck to the face of a board in such a way that they
resemble blades of grass on a piece of sod. The strips are coated on one side with nanowires and on the other side with indium tin oxide (ITO).
As wind travels across the board, moving the “blades of grass,” an electric charge is formed. In the lab, this was simulated by a fan. In real life, the boards can be laid out across a rooftop to make the best use of space and take advantage of the higher wind speed off of the ground.
The system was tested successfully with wind speeds ranging from soft to harsh. The lower winds were enough to allow the device to function but were not the most efficient, while the higher speeds achieved the best results in both efficiency and output. Unfortunately, higher winds are not generally available and they usually are a sign of inclement weather, therefore it is not practical to expect the device to operate at such a high rate on a regular basis.
How does the TENG work?
The TENG operates based on a principle known as the triboelectric effect. The simple explanation is that certain materials will become electrically charged when certain other materials rub against them (friction). Amber, for instance, will gain an electric charge when it is rubbed with wool.
Does this sound familiar? It should—it’s static electricity! The same phenomenon that allows you to rub your stockinged feet on the carpet and then zap an unsuspecting friend could also power your home!
The “blades of grass” are pushed around by the wind so that they come into contact with each other and break contact very rapidly.
There are still a few kinks that the teams are trying to iron out. The first problem is how to store the power after it’s generated. The second problem is that indium tin oxide is both expensive and toxic, making it unaffordable and unhealthy.
Despite the setbacks, the concept is fascinating and promising. It could be another way for people to eventually power their own home in off-grid settings. The TENG could even be coupled with solar power to make the most of stormy days when the sun’s not shining as brightly but the wind is up.
Although these things take time and much patience is needed, this is certainly an exciting step toward clean, alternative energy.
Kyle is an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for nature and sustainability. When he is not writing, you will find him in his workshop crafting with local wood, hiking in the Arizona mountains, fly fishing, horseback riding or putting together a healthy meal in the kitchen.