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Personal power generator harvests energy from the breeze you make when you walk

Wind power is an exciting and efficient method for generating sustainable energy. But while most of us aren’t going to be getting personal wind turbines anytime soon, a small device developed by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing promises to turn wind power into a personal energy generating solution — by harvesting energy from the breeze created when you go for a brisk walk. Yes, seriously.

Rather than being a wind turbine, the device is a nanogenerator composed of twin plastic strips in a tube that moves when exposed to airflow. Through a process called the triboelectric effect, the two plastic strips brush against each other and generate an electric current. This is similar to the way that static makes your hair stand on end when you rub a balloon on your head. This current is then sent via silver electrodes to a miniature generator. While the wind-to-energy conversion efficiency is lower than an average wind turbine, it is higher than previous devices trying to do similar wind scavenging.

The prototype gadget is capable of producing 2.5 milliwatts of power. This is sufficient to power 100 small LED lights. That means that the idea of being able to power, say, your iPhone by taking a heart rate-increasing walk is out of the question for now. However, the researchers are hoping to scale up the power generating system, which could make it more useful when it comes to real-world applications. They could even potentially create giant-sized versions that could be placed in locations traditional wind turbines cannot easily be erected, such as on top of certain buildings.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology,” researcher Ya Yang from Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement. “Our goal is to solve the issues that the traditional wind turbines can’t solve. Unlike wind turbines that use coils and magnets, where the costs are fixed, we can pick and choose low-cost materials for our device. Our device can also be safely applied to nature reserves or cities because it doesn’t have the rotating structures.”

A paper describing this work, titled “A Triboelectric Nanogenerator Exploiting the Bernoulli Effect for Scavenging Wind Energy,” was recently published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.

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