Scientists have designed a kind of “tiny wind turbine” that can scavenge wind energy from breezes as little as those created by a brisk walk. The new device is not technically a turbine. It is a nanogenerator made of two plastic strips in a tube that flutter or clap together when there is airflow.
Like rubbing a balloon to your hair, the two plastics become electrically charged after being separated from contact, a phenomenon called the triboelectric effect. The electricity generated by the two plastic strips is captured and stored.
“You can collect all the breeze in your everyday life”, says senior author Ya Yang of Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, Chinese Academy of Sciences. “We once placed our nanogenerator on a person’s arm, and a swinging arm’s airflow was enough to generate power.”
A breeze as gentle as 1.6 m/s (3.6 mph) was enough to power the triboelectric nanogenerator designed by Yang and his colleagues.
The nanogenerator performs at its best when wind velocity is between 4 to 8 m/s (8.9 to 17.9 mph), a speed that allows the two plastic strips to flutter in sync.
The device also has a high wind-to-energy conversion efficiency of 3.23%, a value that exceeds previously reported performances on wind energy scavenging. Currently, the research team’s device can power up 100 LED lights and temperature sensors.