New "Nanogenerator" Could Power Your iPod With Your Own Movements

By Eliza Strickland | March 27, 2009 3:20 pm

nano power hamsterThe mechanical energy produced when your body moves could be harnessed to power electronic gadgets thanks to what researchers are calling a “nanogenerator.” The nanotech device is made of tiny zinc oxide nanowires, which have piezoelectric properties–meaning that they generate a tiny electrical pulse when they’re bent, stretched, or otherwise subjected to mechanical stress. According to Zhong Lin Wang, lead researcher, the device could be used to charge gadgets such as iPods and BlackBerrys as well as having a impact on defence technology, environmental monitoring and biomedical sciences. “This technology can be used to generate energy under any circumstances as long as there is movement,” he said [Financial Times].

In a video demonstration, Wang attached a single nanowire to the back of a hamster and then hooked it up to an oscilloscope. As the rodent … scurried around, it generated 70 millivolts [the equivalent of .o7 volts]. When the critter stopped to lick itself, the power levels decreased [Wired].

Each nanowire is 25 times thinner than a human hair, but each generator could contain hundreds or thousands of the wires. Even then, it might take a number of the generators to actually power anything. So far, Wang says, his team has been able to achieve a maximum output voltage of 0.2 volts. For comparison, devices that are charged via USB generally operate on 5 volts. “The greatest challenge is to improve the output voltage and power,” said Wang [IT News].

Wang published his findings last month in the journal NANO Letters, and explained the technology’s possible applications at the American Chemical Society meeting this week. Despite the obstacles, Wang sees a need to for his nanogenerator because no batteries exist that are small enough to power technology at the nano scale…. [His] generators could be used to power sensors for detecting cancer or measuring blood sugar level for diabetics, Wang says [Scientific American].

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Image:  Zhong Lin Wang / Georgia Tech

  • shaun

    sounds all fantastic, but energy comes from somewhere….and its NOT free

    mass damp enough, and you cannot move…ie…you may power something, but only be able to travel 1/2 the distance before you get tired…..

  • leukocyte

    “only be able to travel 1/2 the distance before you get tired…..”

    Most Americans could use the exercise.

  • Matt Tarditti

    No discussion of how many amps (milliamps…nanoamps?) are being generated. Without current, you get no power, no matter how high your potential. Thoughts?

  • Geoff

    It’s not free, but damping your movements? an iPod only requires a few watts of power, as do most other electronic devices. The power is a very small fraction of the normal power of your movements, and will barely be noticed. You’re not going to solve the energy crisis this way, but an mp3 player you never have to plug in would be very nice.

  • FreeIphone

    nice blog cheers

  • Byron

    Shaun, if a rodent can generate such power from just scurrying around, we could just slip on a glove to mimic that.

    Personally, if those were strapped to my legs, I’d make enough power to blow out lightbulbs at fifty paces.

  • Spuffler

    Something from nothing, always too good to be true.

    Feeding those hamster is going to cost me in seed and veggies, especially if I have to run several hundred hamsters in electrical series circuit to get realistic voltages. And what happens when they reproduce… who is gonna wire those critters with nanowires?

    I’m certainly not going to opt for wearing power generating clothing. Cost. I don’t pay $40 for designer Jeans, why would I pay thousands for electricity generating garments? ROI is looking like it will be measured in decades. Wearout is looking like it will be measured in months, just like any other fabric.

    Anyways, think decades, people. In a few decades, this fad will be the next pet rock.

  • Carmelo Cruzen

    This is exactly what I’ve been dreaming about. Perfect mp3 player for my needs.

  • Peter

    Voltage can be stepped up or down and is kind of meaningless without energy. Should have given us the power in watts.


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