Recent years have witnessed a groundbreaking shift in the field of energy harvesting, specifically within the realm of wearable electronics. Scientists and engineers have been fervently grappling with the challenge of creating power sources that are both sustainable and can seamlessly integrate into the fabric of our daily attire. The solution? Triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs). These devices convert the mechanical energy generated by human movement into electrical energy. However, the Achilles’ heel of these innovative devices has often been the vulnerability of their metallic components to corrosion, particularly when exposed to human sweat or the elements.

This is all set to change, thanks to the pioneering work documented in a May 2019 article from ‘Nanomaterials (Basel, Switzerland)’ entitled “Cost-Effective Copper⁻Nickel-Based Triboelectric Nanogenerator for Corrosion-Resistant and High-Output Self-Powered Wearable Electronic Systems” (DOI: 10.3390/nano9050700). Researchers Xia Kequan and colleagues from Zhejiang University, Ocean College, and various other esteemed institutions have developed a novel copper-nickel (Cu-Ni) based TENG that promises heightened resistance to corrosion while delivering impressive power output.

The heart of this innovation lies in the use of a copper-nickel alloy conductive tape paired with a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) tape, which form the triboelectric active layers. These components are supported by polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and together churn out a significant open-circuit voltage (VOC), essential for a myriad of self-powered applications. The study, which represents a significant leap in TENG technology, suggests that wearables may soon become more sustainable, long-lasting, and integrated into our everyday lives.

Keywords

1. Triboelectric Nanogenerator
2. Wearable Electronics
3. Copper-Nickel Alloy
4. Corrosion-Resistant TENG
5. Self-Powered Devices

The recent article draws on previous research in wearable electronics to bolster its findings. Works such as “Wearable Force Touch Sensor Array Using a Flexible and Transparent Electrode” (DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201605286) and “Aggregation control in natural brush-printed conjugated polymer films and implications for enhancing charge transport” (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1713634114) form the bedrock for understanding the interaction between flexible materials and electrical properties, instrumental in the development of TENGs.

Further, TENGs are part of a much broader panorama aiming to produce advanced functional materials, as highlighted by “Deep eutectic solvents (DESs)-derived advanced functional materials for energy and environmental applications” (DOI: 10.1039/C7TA01659J). Similarly, “Wearable Power-Textiles by Integrating Fabric Triboelectric Nanogenerators and Fiber-Shaped Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells” illustrates the myriad possibilities for self-powered textiles, providing the scientific community with a path to follow for future developments.

The effectiveness of a TENG directly correlates with its material durability, a topic underscored in “Packaged triboelectric nanogenerator with high endurability for severe environments”, which discusses the durability of such devices in extreme conditions. This durability aligns with the goal of achieving self-powered devices that are not only energy-efficient but can also withstand the wear and tear of daily use and environmental factors.

The utilization of specific materials such as a copper-nickel alloy in the latest TENG development adds a dimension of durability, as copper-nickel alloys have been recognized for their corrosion resistance in harsh environments, including seawater. “Erosion-corrosion of copper-nickel alloys in sea water and other aqueous environments” provides context on the advantages of such material selections in prolonging the life of devices exposed to potentially corrosive environments.

The advent of copper-nickel-based TENGs is not just a scientific achievement but has the potential to pivot the very nature of energy harvesting in wearable technology. With an increased emphasis on eco-friendly and sustainable living, the quest for self-powered electronics that resist environmental wear has become paramount. This breakthrough tackles not only the technical barriers formerly encountered but also promises an energy-efficient and potentially cost-effective alternative to traditional power sources.

The future of copper-nickel-based TENGs seems promising, with applications extending beyond wearable technology into areas such as marine energy harvesting and sensors for monitoring health or environmental variables. As the adoption of flexible, durable, and self-powered devices grows, their potential to revolutionize the way we interact with technology, and ultimately with the world around us, becomes increasingly tangible.

The profound implications of these nanogenerators may soon facilitate the rise of smart wearables, which could, for instance, monitor health metrics while being fueled by the very motion of the wearer. This not only represents a milestone in personalized healthcare but also parallels growing trends in IoT and smart cities, where seamless interactions with tech are pivotal.

The work by Xia Kequan et al. stands as a testament to the relentless pursuit of innovation that defines the scientific community. It underscores the boundless potential of interdisciplinary collaboration and offers a glimpse into a future where our devices not only respond to our needs but are also powered by our very own bio-kinetic energy. The synchronization of human motion with electronic utility may well define the next era of wearable technology, fostering a world more in tune with sustainable living and energy independence.

References

1. Xia K.Q., Zhu Z.Y., Zhang H.Z., Du C.L., Xu Z.W., Wang R.J. (2018). Painting a high-output triboelectric nanogenerator on paper for harvesting energy from human body motion. Nano Energy, 50, 571–580. doi: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2018.06.019.

2. Song J.K., Son D., Kim J., Yoo Y.J., Lee G.J., Wang L., Choi M.K., Yang J., Lee M., Do K., et al. (2017). Wearable Force Touch Sensor Array Using a Flexible and Transparent Electrode. Adv. Funct. Mater., 27(6), 1605286. doi: 10.1002/adfm.201605286.

3. Wang G., Huang W., Eastham N.D., Fabiano S., Manley E.F., Zeng L., Wang B., Zhang X.N., Chen Z.H., Li R., et al. (2017). Aggregation control in natural brush-printed conjugated polymer films and implications for enhancing charge transport. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 114(47), 10066–10073. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1713634114.

4. Ge X., Gu C.D., Wang X.L., Tu J.P. (2017). Deep eutectic solvents (DESs)-derived advanced functional materials for energy and environmental applications: Challenges, opportunities, and future vision. J. Mater. Chem. A, 5(18), 8209–8229. doi: 10.1039/C7TA01659J.

5. Pu X., Song W.X., Liu M.M., Sun C.W., Du C.H., Jiang C.Y., Huang X., Zou D.C., Hu W.G., Wang Z.L. (2016). Wearable Power-Textiles by Integrating Fabric Triboelectric Nanogenerators and Fiber-Shaped Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells. Adv. Energy Mater., 6(20), 1601048. doi: 10.1002/aenm.201601048.