Research Foundation News

March 12, 2019

Movie technology inspires wearable liquid unit that aims to harvest energy


Technology designed to advance self-powering devices such as consumer electronics and defense innovations

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A fascination with movie technology that showed robots perform self-repair through a liquid formula inspired a Purdue University professor to make his own discoveries – which are now helping to lead the way for advancements in self-powering devices such as consumer electronics and defense innovations.

The Purdue team, led by Wenzhuo Wu, the Ravi and Eleanor Talwar Rising Star Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering, has created wearable technology to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. A video about the technology is available at https://youtu.be/TXo7zcijVjI.

Wear technology A Purdue University team created wearable technology to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. (Image provided) Download image

“Our work presents an important step toward the practical realization of self-powered, human-integrated technologies,” Wu said.

The Purdue team invented a liquid-metal-inclusion based triboelectric nanogenerator, called LMI-TENG. Triboelectric energy harvesting transducers – devices which help conserve mechanical energy and turn it into power – are predicted to be a $480 million market by 2028, according to IDTechEx.

The LMI-TENG can harvest and sense the biomechanical signals from the body and use those to help power and direct technological devices. The LMI-TENG consists of a layer of liquid metal embedded functional silicone sandwiched between two Ecoflex layers.

The Purdue technology is featured in the February edition of the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, which named it one of 2019’s HOT papers.

“We realized that liquid represents the ultimate form of anything that can be deformable and morphing into different shapes,” Wu said. “Our technology will enable wearable electronics to take otherwise wasted energy and transform it into energy that can power and control electronic devices and tools used in military defense and consumer applications. Our technology allows the synergistic engineering of TENG components at the material, structural and output levels.”

Wu said the Purdue technology has applications for many self-powered innovations for emerging technologies, such as wearable sensors, pervasive computing, advanced health care, human-machine interfaces, robotics, user interfaces, augmented reality, virtual reality, teleoperation and the Internet of Things.

Their work aligns with Purdue's Giant Leaps celebration, acknowledging the university’s global advancements in artificial intelligence and health as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. AI and health are two of the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

Researchers worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the innovation, and they are looking for partners to continue developing it. 

About Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization

The Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Innovation from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at otcip@prf.org. The Purdue Research Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation created to advance the mission of Purdue University.           

Writer: Chris Adam, 765-588-3341, cladam@prf.org

Source: Wenzhuo Wu, wu966@purdue.edu


Abstract

Wearable high-dielectric-constant polymer with core-shell liquid metal inclusions for biomechanical energy harvesting and self-powered user interface

Shengjie Gao,  Ruoxing Wang,  Chenxiang Ma,  Zihao Chen,  Yixiu Wang,  Min Wu,  Zhiyuan Tang,  Ning Bao,  Dong Ding,  Wenxuan Wu,  Fengru Fan  and  Wenzhuo Wu

Deformable energy devices capable of efficiently scavenging the ubiquitous mechanical signals enables the realization of self-powered wearable electronic systems for emerging human-integrated technologies. Triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) utilizing soft polymers with embedded additives and engineered dielectric property emerge as ideal candidates for such applications. However, the use of solid filler materials in the state-of-the-art TENGs limit the devices’ mechanical deformability and long-term durability. The current structural design for TENGs faces the dilemma where the enhanced dielectric constant of TENG’s contact layer leads to an undesirable saturation of the surface charge density. Here, we present a novel scheme to address the above issues, by exploring a liquid-metal-inclusion based TENG (LMI-TENG) where the inherently deformable core-shell LMI are incorporated in the wearable high-dielectric-constant polymers. Through a holistic approach integrating theoretical and experimental efforts, we identified the parameter space for designing LMI-TENG with co-optimized output and mechanical deformability. As a proof of concept, we demonstrated LMI-TENG based wireless media control system for the self-powered user interface. The device architecture and design scheme presented here provides a promising solution towards the realization of self-powered human-integrated technologies.



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