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Spongy material could charge phones using vibrations from cars


February 21, 2014

Someday, simply having your phone in the car while driving could recharge it

Someday, simply having your phone in the car while driving could recharge it

While it's already possible to wirelessly recharge smartphones in cars, those cars need to be equipped with a special charging pad that the phone has to be placed on. Thanks to a newly-developed "nanogenerator," however, it might eventually be possible to place the phone anywhere in any car, letting the vehicle's vibrations provide the power.

Developed by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota Duluth, and China's Sun Yat-sen University, the nanogenerator could be incorporated directly into a phone's housing.

It's made from a piezoelectric polymer known as polyvinylidene fluoride, or PVDF. Like other piezoelectric materials, PVDF generates electricity when subjected to mechanical strain.

The scientists deposited nanoparticles of zinc oxide into a thin film of the polymer, but then etched those particles out again, leaving tiny interconnected pores where they had been. The presence of those pores caused the ordinarily rigid PVDF to take on a sponge-like consistency, allowing it to flex and thus generate electricity when subjected to even slight vibrations – having the weight of a phone pressing down on it would amplify the effect.

That film is sandwiched between two electrode sheets, the whole multilayer nanogenerator still remaining quite thin and flexible. Because of this quality, it could conceivably conform not just to the flat, rigid housings of phones or other devices, but also to a variety of irregular surfaces including human skin.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Geez, more vapor talk. Develop it and then talk about it.

S Michael

Fantastic! Reminds me of the "shock absorber" electricity generators. It's great when you can "scavange" wasted energy.


Why limit it to cell phone charging? If it is actually that effective, manufacture it into the car as a whole and you could power a heck of a lot more. Really could boost efficiency in a hybrid or electric vehicle.

That's assuming a pad of this material could power a cellphone. I don't see any specs here.

Racqia Dvorak

Hmm... it might work in my friend's harshly sprung BMW but not in my Jag where the emphasis is on excluding vibration!

Sheldon Cooper
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