Semiconductors and Components

Researchers Build Piezoelectric Nano-Generator Using Nature as a Guide

03 December 2013

Mimicking natural phenomena, a team at South Korean research university KAIST has developed a flexible piezoelectric energy harvesting nano-generator for use in next-generation energy harvesting technology in lighting and medical applications.

Many elements in nature spontaneously synthesize and self-assemble universal materials into sophisticated architectures, such as shells, sea sponges, and bone minerals. They outperform their synthesized equivalents. For instance, whereas the natural seashell, consisting of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), is very rigid and tough, artificial chalk made by the same material is fragile.

In addition, most artificial syntheses are performed under toxic, expensive and extreme environments. That contrasts with the natural syntheses, which are processed in benign and mild surroundings. Mimicking these biological processes can solve a variety of ecological and material issues.

To that end, the KAIST team modified a M13 viral gene—which is harmless to humans and widely exists in nature—to take advantage of its ability of synthesizing a highly piezoelectric inorganic material, barium titanate (BaTiO3).

Using this biotemplated piezoelectric material, the researchers were able to fabricate a high-output flexible nanogenerator that converts mechanical energy of tiny movements into electrical energy for use in next-generation energy harvesting technology.

The nanogenerator will be able to drive commercial LCD screens and LED bulbs by simple finger movements, according to the researchers.

The team at KAIST (which stands for Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) was led by professors Keon Jae Lee and Yoon Sung Nam from the department of materials science and engineering.

Their group has developed new forms of nanogenerator technology using freely bendable piezoelectric ceramic thin film nano-materials and nanocomposite materials. Thin-film nano-materials of barium titanate have the property of both high efficiency and lead-free bio-compatibility, appropriate for future medical applications.

The KAIST group has succeeded in developing a bio-eco friendly nanogenerator that is freely bendable without breakdown.

"This is the first time to introduce a biotemplated inorganic piezoelectric material to a self-powered energy harvesting system, which can be realized through eco-friendly and efficient material syntheses, " said Lee.

The research result was published in the November online issue of ACS Nano.

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