Imagine if you were able to charge your phone by going for a walk. With this personal power generator, the latest in wind energy technology, that idea is not as far-fetched as you might think.
Personal Power Generator Produces Energy While You Walk
Wind turbines have become one of the “poster child” products for renewable energy. While they can produce quite a lot of power, most land breezes aren’t powerful enough to push commercial turbine blades. Researchers from the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have created a “tiny wind turbine” that can act as a personal power generator. This technology can garner energy from little breezes, even the one you create when you walk. (1)
“You can collect all the breeze in your everyday life,” says senior author Ya Yang of the Beijing Institute. “We once placed our nanogenerator on a person’s arm, and a swinging arm’s airflow was enough to generate power.” (1)
How Does it Work?
Technically speaking this new personal power generator isn’t actually a turbine. It is a nanogenerator made of a tube with two plastic strips inside. When there is airflow through the tube, the two plastic strips flutter or clap together. (1)
This rubbing together of the plastic strips creates a triboelectric effect: When the two plastic strips are separated after the contact, they become electrically charged. This is the same phenomenon that happens when you rub a balloon against your head, except that electric energy that is created is captured and stored. (1)
What is a “Breeze”?
Yang and his team found that a breeze as light as 1.6 meters per second (3.6 mph) was enough to generate power. The optimal breeze for the tiny wind turbine is between four and eight meters per second (8.9 to 17.9 mph) because these speeds cause the plastic strips to flutter in a more steady, synchronized pattern. (2)
Currently, these personal power generators have a 3.23% energy conversion efficiency rate. So far this is the highest efficiency reported for this type of technology. (2) The generators have the capacity to power 100 LED lights and temperature sensors, however, the team is working hard to make them be more useful in a variety of settings. (1)
According to Yang, the idea isn’t to replace wind turbines with these new generators, but rather to provide solutions to problems that traditional wind power can’t. (1) Two of these include:
- Cost: Wind turbines have fixed costs for specific materials. These generators can be made from a variety of different low-cost materials. (1)
- Location: The generators can be safely used in both cities and in nature because they don’t have the rotating structures of traditional turbines. (1)
While they won’t take away the need for the larger turbines, they can add another piece to the puzzle that is powering our planet in a sustainable way.
Yang says he and his team have, quite literally, some big and small visions for the personal power generator.
The small vision is to create a generator that is small enough to be used to power phones. The team has created generators as small as a coin in the past, but this one needs to be even smaller and more efficient. (1)
The larger vision is to make a much bigger version that can compete with traditional wind turbines. These big generators will have the capacity to produce 1000 watts of power. (1)
“We can place these devices where traditional wind turbines can’t reach. We can put it in the mountains or on the top of buildings for sustainable energy.” says Yang. (1)
The Bottom Line
While these generators might not be ready for you to charge your phone while you take the dog for a walk just yet, it is an exciting addition to the growing list of green energy technologies. Hopefully these, in combination with many of the others, will help lead to the greener future that our planet so desperately needs.