What if every day, ordinary materials could transform human motion into electricity to power lights, electronic devices, and used for other important applications? Physicists at the Clemson Nanomaterials Institute (CNI) at Clemson University have developed the ultra-simple triboelectric nanogenerator, or U-TENG, to do just that.

The U-TENG is a device that harvests energy from simple mechanical motions like foot tapping, hand clapping, walking, and running. It converts this energy into electricity. Clemson physicists combined high-temperature tape with the same plastic used to make drinking water bottles. They made them electrically conductive by adding a layer of indium tin oxide which is a common transparent conductive material. They then taped the materials together to create the U-TENG. When repetitive motions like foot tapping are applied, the tape comes into contact with the plastic, transforming mechanical energy into electricity and generating voltage. The U-TENG is wired to an external circuit that collects and stores the electrical current in a capacitor for future use.  Most existing TENGS (triboelectric nanogenerators) are constructed with graphene, carbon nanotubes, and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS); these materials them difficult and expensive to mass produce. In contrast, the U-TENG is made from commercially available materials and assembled in minutes at a cost of 60 cents each. And because the U-TENG converts energy into electricity without the use of a battery, “it will never run out of power, unlocking what are seemingly endless possibilities for its use,” according to Clemson physicists.

As the Clemson physicists point out, the U-TENG is a scalable technology. The end result could be a new device that’s easily and inexpensively produced, and that can be used to harvest energy from every day ordinary human motions to create electricity for current use and stored for later use, providing an alternative, continuous source of power. This could be a big step forward for wearable Health Tech devices, eliminating the need to recharge them which would make them far more convenient to use.