Electricity-producing materials would be able to power nanodevices of the future

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Washington, July 28 (ANI): A team of scientists at the University of Houston has set out to both amplify and provoke the potential in materials to produce electricity for themselves, which can be used to create nanodevices that can power electronics, such as cell phones, MP3 players and even biomedical implants.

The potential in materials to naturally produce electricity when literally subjected to strain, is known as piezoelectrics.

"Nanodevices using piezoelectric materials will be light, environmentally friendly and draw on inexhaustible energy supplies," said associate professor Pradeep Sharma, one of the creative minds at the Cullen College of Engineering running two projects on piezoelectrics.

"Imagine a sensor on the wing of a plane or a satellite. Do we really want to change its battery every time its power source gets exhausted? Hard-to-access devices could be self-powered," he added.

Sharma explains that piezoelectric materials convert mechanical energy into electrical energy.

"Indeed, gas lighters used in most homes are based on this," he said. "These future piezoelectric nanodevices will also generate an electrical current in response to mechanical stimuli. Then, the energy will be stored in batteries or, even better, in nanocapacitors for use when needed," he added.

Although piezoelectrics have been used for many years, Sharma's team is exploring new possibilities by beefing up the effect in natural piezoelectrics.

Doing so requires understanding the phenomenon that spurs piezoelectricity, known as "flexoelectricity."

"Flexoelectricity, at the nanoscale, allows you to coax ordinary material to behave like a piezoelectric one. Perhaps more importantly, this phenomenon exists in materials that are already piezoelectric. You can make the effect even larger," Sharma said.

According to Sharma, he would like to see wasted energy be harvested from a variety of sources.

"In principle, any human activities - for example, walking, jumping, swimming - will produce a certain amount of energy," he said, and could be made into electricity by piezoelectric nanostructures in shoes or in backpacks.

It's a matter of controlling materials' structures to the point at which considerably more power can be harvested from common activities, according to Professor Ken White.

"An enormous benefit can be expected - in everything from soldiers in the field, to police on the street, to air and ground vehicles - in the form of locally powered devices," White explained.

Sharma said that the environment contains plenty of waste energy that can be harnessed into useful energy to make ours a "self-powered autonomous society." (ANI)

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