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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-03-07 09:05:01
  • Article ID: 690690

New Insights Could Pave The Way For Self-Powered Low Energy Devices

  • Credit: Christopher Moore

    Exploring the effects of static electricty.

  • Credit: Rob Felt

    Georgia Tech professor Zhong Lin Wang poses with an array of 1,000 LED lights that can be illuminated by power produced by the force of a shoe striking a triboelectric generator placed on the floor.

Most people have felt that sting from grabbing a doorknob after walking across a carpet or seen how a balloon will stick to a fuzzy surface after a few moments of vigorous rubbing.

While the effects of static electricity have been fascinating casual observers and scientists for millennia, certain aspects of how the electricity is generated and stored on surfaces have remained a mystery.

Now, researchers have discovered more details about the way certain materials hold a charge even after two surfaces separate, information that could help improve devices that leverage such energy as a power source.

“We’ve known that energy generated in contact electrification is readily retained by the material as electrostatic charges for hours at room temperature,” said Zhong Lin Wang, Regents' Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Our research showed that there’s a potential barrier at the surface that prevents the charges generated from flowing back to the solid where they were from or escaping from the surface after the contacting.”

In their research, which was reported in March in the Advanced Materials, the researchers found that electron transfer is the dominant process for contact electrification between two inorganic solids and explains some of the characteristics already observed about static electricity.

“There has been some debate around contact electrification – namely, whether the charge transfer occurs through electrons or ions and why the charges retain on the surface without a quick dissipation,” Wang said.

It’s been eight years since Wang’s team first published research on triboelectric nanogenerators, which employ materials that create an electric charge when in motion and could be designed to harvest energy from a variety of sources such as wind, ocean currents or sound vibrations.

“Previously we just used trial and error to maximize this effect,” Wang said. “But with this new information, we can design materials that have better performance for power conversion.”

The researchers developed a method using a nanoscale triboelectric nanogenerator – composed of layers either of titanium and aluminum oxide or titanium and silicone dioxide – to help quantify the amount of charge accumulating on surfaces during moments of friction.

The method was capable of tracking the accumulated charges in real time and worked over a wide range of temperatures, including very high ones. The data from the study indicated that the characteristics of the triboelectric effect, namely, how electrons flowed across barriers, were consistent with the electron thermionic emission theory.

By designing triboelectric nanogenerators that could withstanding testing at high temperatures, the researchers also found that temperature played a major role in the triboelectric effect.

“We never realized it was a temperature dependent phenomenon,” Wang said. “But we found that when the temperature reaches about 300 Celsius, the triboelectric transfer almost disappears.”

The researchers tested the ability for surfaces to maintain a charge at temperatures ranging from about 80 degrees Celsius to 300 degrees Celsius. Based on their data, the researchers proposed a mechanism for explaining the physics process in triboelectrification effect.

“As the temperature rises, the energy fluctuations of electrons become larger and larger,” the researchers wrote. “Thus, it is easier for electrons to hop out of the potential well, and they either go back to the material where they came from or emit into air.”

This work was supported by the Hightower Chair Foundation, the National Key R & D Project from the Minister of Science and Technology of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Six Talent Peaks Project in Jiangsu Province, China. Any conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring organizations.

CITATION: Cheng Xu, Yunlong Zi, Aurelia Chi Wang, Haiyang Zou, Yejing Dai, Xu He, Peihong Wang, Yi-Cheng Wang, Peizhong Feng, Dawei Li, and Zhong Lin Wang, “On the Electron-Transfer Mechanism in the Contact-Electrification Effect,” (Advanced Materials, March, 2018). http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/adma.201706790

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Two Faces Offer Limitless Possibilities

Named for the mythical god with two faces, Janus membranes -- double-sided membranes that serve as gatekeepers between two substances -- have emerged as a material with potential industrial uses.

Relax, Just Break It

Argonne scientists and their collaborators are helping to answer long-held questions about a technologically important class of materials called relaxor ferroelectrics.

Putting Bacteria to Work

Bacteria are diverse and complex creatures that are demonstrating the ability to communicate organism-to-organism and even interact with the moods and perceptions of their hosts (human or otherwise). Scientists call this behavior "bacterial cognition," a systems biology concept that treats these microscopic creatures as beings that can behave like information processing systems.

New Computer Model Predicts How Fracturing Metallic Glass Releases Energy at the Atomic Level

Metallic glasses are an exciting research target for tantalizing applications; however, the difficulties associated with predicting how much energy these materials release when they fracture is slowing down development of metallic glass-based products. Recently, researchers developed a way of simulating to the atomic level how metallic glasses behave as they fracture. This modeling technique could improve computer-aided materials design and help researchers determine the properties of metallic glasses. The duo reports their findings in the Journal of Applied Physics.

The Relationship Between Charge Density Waves and Superconductivity? It's Complicated.

For a long time, physicists have tried to understand the relationship between a periodic pattern of conduction electrons called a charge density wave (CDW), and another quantum order, superconductivity, or zero electrical resistance, in the same material. Do they compete? Co-exist? Co-operate? Do they go their separate ways?

Splitting Water: Nanoscale Imaging Yields Key Insights

In the quest to realize artificial photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into fuel - just as plants do - researchers need to not only identify materials to efficiently perform photoelectrochemical water splitting, but also to understand why a certain material may or may not work. Now scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have pioneered a technique that uses nanoscale imaging to understand how local, nanoscale properties can affect a material's macroscopic performance.

Feeding Plants to This Algae Could Fuel Your Car

The research shows that a freshwater production strain of microalgae, Auxenochlorella protothecoides, is capable of directly degrading and utilizing non-food plant substrates, such as switchgrass, for improved cell growth and lipid productivity, useful for boosting the algae's potential value as a biofuel.

No More Zigzags: Scientists Uncover Mechanism That Stabilizes Fusion Plasmas

Article describes simulation of physics behind elimination of sawtooth instabilities.

Solutions to Water Challenges Reside at the Interface

Leading Argonne National Laboratory researcher Seth Darling describes the most advanced research innovations that could address global clean water accessibility.

New Cost-Effective Instrument Measures Molecular Dynamics on a Picosecond Timescale

Studying the photochemistry has shown that ultraviolet radiation can set off harmful chemical reactions in the human body and, alternatively, can provide "photo-protection" by dispersing extra energy. To better understand the dynamics of these photochemical processes, a group of scientists irradiated the RNA base uracil with ultraviolet light and documented its behavior on a picosecond timescale. They discuss their work this week in The Journal of Chemical Physics.


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Department of Energy Invests $64 Million in Advanced Nuclear Technology

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced nearly $64 million in awards for advanced nuclear energy technology to DOE national laboratories, industry, and 39 U.S. universities in 29 states. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been awarded $800,000 for analysis of nuclear power plants' accident propagation and mitigation processes.

Professor Miao Yu Named the Priti and Mukesh Chatter '82 Career Development Professor

Miao Yu, associate professor in the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been named the Priti and Mukesh Chatter Career Development Professor. His research focuses on developing advanced nanomaterials for energy and environmental applications.

Funding for New DOE Energy Frontier Research Center at Brookhaven Lab

UPTON, NY--The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced funding for a new Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) to be led by DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory. The Brookhaven EFRC, named "Molten Salts in Extreme Environments," will focus on understanding the properties of a class of materials with potential applications in energy technologies--particularly in nuclear power.

Two Stony Brook Researchers Receive Energy Frontier Research Center Awards Totaling $21.75M

Stony Brook University received notification from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that two proposals directed by SBU faculty to expand or develop Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) designed to accelerate scientific breakthroughs needed to strengthen U.S. economic leadership and energy security will receive funding totaling $21.75 million. The two Stony Brook EFRCs are the Center for Mesoscale Transport Properties (m2M), led by renowned energy storage researcher, Esther Takeuchi, PhD, which will receive a four-year $12 million grant for the existing center; and the creation of a new EFRC, A Next Generation Synthesis Center (GENESIS) led by John Parise, PhD, which will receive a four-year $9.75 million grant.

Seth Davidovits Wins 2018 Marshall N. Rosenbluth Dissertation Award

Article describes dissertation award won by Seth Davidovits.

DOE Launches New Lab Partnering Service

The U.S. Department of Energy officially launched the Lab Partnering Service (LPS), an on-line, single access point platform for investors, innovators, and institutions to identify, locate, and obtain information from DOE's 17 national laboratories.

Department of Energy Announces $75 Million for High Energy Physics Research

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $75 million in funding for 77 university research awards on a range of topics in high energy physics to advance knowledge of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

Thesis Prize Winner's Calculations Characterize Neutrino Interactions

Alessandro Baroni is helping demystify one of the most mysterious particles. His work is contributing to our understanding of neutrinos, and it has earned him the 2017 Jefferson Science Associates Thesis Prize for work performed on a thesis related to research at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

10 Questions for Steven Cowley, New Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Steven Cowley, a theoretical physicist and international authority on fusion energy, became the seventh Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPon July 1 and will be Princeton professor of astrophysical sciences on September 1.

Ames Laboratory to lead new Center for Advancement of Topological Semimetals

Ames Laboratory will receive $10.75 million over four yearrs for a new Center for Advancement of Topological Semimetals as one of the Department of Energy's Energy Frontier Research Centers.


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Steering Light with Dynamic Lens-on-MEMS

Scientists add active control to design capabilities for new lightweight flat optical devices.

Sugar-Coated Sheets Selectively Target Pathogens

Researchers design self-assembling nanosheets that mimic the surface of cells.

Tracking Down Helium-4's Quarks and Gluons

Scientists obtain the first exclusive measurement of deeply virtual Compton scattering of electrons off helium-4, vital to obtaining an unambiguous 3-D view of quarks and gluons within nuclei.

Predicting Magnetic Explosions: From Plasma Current Sheet Disruption to Fast Magnetic Reconnection

Supercomputer simulations and theoretical analysis shed new light on when and how fast reconnection occurs.

Is Nature Exclusively Left Handed? Using Chilled Atoms to Find Out

Elegant techniques of trapping and polarizing atoms open vistas for beta-decay tests of fundamental symmetries, key to understanding the most basic forces and particles constituting our universe.

As Future Batteries, Hybrid Supercapacitors Are Super-Charged

A new supercapacitor could be a competitive alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Forever Young Catalyst Reduces Diesel Emissions

Atom probe tomography reveals key explanations for stable performance over a cutting-edge diesel-exhaust catalyst's lifetime.

Sense Like a Shark: Saltwater-Submersible Films

A nickelate thin film senses electric field changes analogous to the electroreception sensing organ in sharks, which detects the bioelectric fields of prey.

A Bit of Quantum Logic--What Did the Atom Say to the Quantum Dot?

Let's talk! Scientists demonstrate coherent coupling between a quantum dot and a donor atom in silicon, vital for moving information inside quantum computers.

New Tech Uses Isomeric Beams to Study How and Where the Galaxy Makes One of Its Most Common Elements

A new measurement using a beam of aluminum-26 prepared in a metastable state allows researchers to better understand the creation of the elements in our galaxy.


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