Charge your phone while you walk? Clemson researchers say it's n - FOX Carolina 21

Charge your phone while you walk? Clemson researchers say it's not too far off

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CLEMSON, SC (FOX Carolina) -

A simple tap on a piece of plastic brings an electric current.

The plastic is designed to make that current, but a team at Clemson University hopes to be using it for so much more.

In fact, they're hoping to use energy generated by a person's walking or running, or perhaps even ocean waves, to get power to charge everything from wearable devices to cell phones.

"All these work with repetitive motion," said Dr. Apparao Rao, director of Clemson Nanomaterials Center. "Generate it, store it.  Generate it, store it."

Rao has led a team to create what's called an ultra-simple triboelectric generator, or U-TENG.  

It's in its early stages, but the hope is to use it as a basis for being able to charge electronic devices with, literally, a walk.

"This is very clean (energy), and it can be built into fabrics," Rao explained.

The idea of being able to charge a phone with human motion might sound far-fetched.  Rao, however, said that the energy that comes from a 30-to-40 minute walk, if properly harnessed, could currently power a calculator for five minutes.

Granted, that's a lot of energy being used for such a small purpose, but researchers at Clemson are working on a larger scale--using the motion of the ocean to generate enough electricity to power entire cities, using the U-TENG technology.

"We've tapped solar, wind energy and we've been tapping all these natural resources, even heat," said Dr. Rama Podila, physicist on the U-TENG project.  "And the only thing left is mechanical energy from the oceans and human motion."

The technology is also cheap.  It costs about 60¢ to make a U-TENG.

"It's off the shelf materials," said Dr. Sriparna Bhattacharya, also with the Clemson Nanomaterials Center.  "It's easy to put together.  Five minutes."

Researchers are working on applying for a patent for the project, and are also trying to get the military on board.

"With some of the soldiers who are fighting outside the country, they run out of batteries, and (this allows them) to generate electricity to power their devices.  They could be walking, running," said Rao.

It's important to note that the principle of what Clemson researchers are talking about isn't essentially making a human a battery, but rather using the energy of human or motion of water, to charge a device.  And even for the researchers, the possibilities of how it could pertain to their own lives are something that they've been pondering.

"I don't see why I couldn't wear a U-TENG and go running (at night)," said Bhattacharya.  "Cars can see me while I go running."

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