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If You Want the Lights On… Get Moving

For all the talk about oil, natural gas, coal and electricity, there’s a much easier solution for today’s power-generation issues.

It’s right under our noses.

More specifically, it’s us!

Last November, we told you about how a school in England employed energy-harvesting company, Pavegen, to install motion-activated “energy tiles” in one of the school’s hallways. The tiles transfer foot motion into kinetic energy – electricity that can power the lights and charge mobile devices.

It’s cheap, clean, D.I.Y. energy generation. Not to mention, infinitely renewable.

And the concept is catching on…

These Boots Are Made for Walking Generating Electricity

At Georgia Tech, researchers are developing similar technology that harnesses the power of motion.

They’ve created thin sheets of plastic that require simple footfall to become electrically charged. Then, using tribo-electric generators, that motion is harvested to switch the lights on.

In fact, since starting their research, the team has boosted the power output by a factor of 100,000 by printing nano-scale patterns onto the sheets. This increases the contact area, which creates more friction and kinetic energy.

Result? One square-meter sheet now generates 400 watts of power.

Granted, that might not seem much, but consider the effect if you put down hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of these sheets on busy city pavements and road surfaces to harness the power of foot and vehicle traffic.

The project’s lead researcher, Dr. Zhong Lin Wang, a Professor at Georgia Tech’s Materials Science and Engineering Department, says the generators could produce enough energy to power parts of a city’s infrastructure.

But this isn’t Wang’s only mission…

From Walking, to Waves, to the Everlasting Cellphone

Using the same technology, Wang is also looking to harvest tidal power and turn the motion of waves into energy, too.

And with good reason…

“In the west and east of the United States – the coastal areas – the calculation shows that 31 terrawatts of electricity can be generated. That’s twice today’s world energy consumption,” he says.

Sounds great. But before embarking on the world’s energy needs, the key is ensuring that his technology is viable and efficient on a smaller scale first.

So he’s trying to apply the concept to cellphones that will never run out of charge.

Take a look at the technology in action…

Wang is right when he says, “We need to have a breakthrough point – a niche application. When you get the public’s interest in that, then you can expand.”

Will this be it? Time will tell. But having worked on technology that turns motion into energy for over 20 years, Wang is confident that his tribo-electric generator can address the world’s growing energy demands – and even produce enough clean, renewable electricity to power the planet.