Power from Paper

Comedian Steven Wright used to say (in his monotone way):

“We lived in a house that ran on static electricity. If we wanted to cook something, we had to take a sweater off real quick. If we wanted to run a blender, we had to rub balloons on our head.”

Turns out, all you need to generate a little electricity is some paper, Teflon tape and a pencil. A team from EPFL, working with researchers at the University of Tokyo, presented just such a device at a MEMS conference. (And check out their video, below the break.)

Produce a current with static electricityYou probably won’t get enough juice from their device to run your blender, but it does have applications in generating power for efficient wearable devices. What Steven Wright was doing uses the triboelectric effect — a fancy name for rubbing two insulators together to electrically charge them. In the EPFL device, the paper and the Teflon are insulators. The pencil graphite acts as a conductor to carry the charge away. The interesting part is this: by using sandpaper imprinting, the researchers produced a rough surface on both the tape and paper, increasing the charge-producing area. Empirically, the output went up over six-fold. A capacitor steadies the electrical current since the device outputs in bursts when the paper and tape come into contact.

Pushing the paper and Teflon sandwich as seldom as 1.5 times a second produced enough power to drive tiny sensors. The device is about three inches by one inch and can generate up to three volts. You can learn more in the video below where you’ll see the device operating a small LCD, and there is enough detail that you should be able to duplicate the device.

26 thoughts on “Power from Paper

  1. Here’s an idea –

    Make of loop with one side and use a motor an pulley to keep it moving like a treadmill.

    Then strip of the static at one end and connect it to something that has a large external surface area.

    1. Wouldn’t having the motor defeat the purpose of actually generating electricity for the purpose. If you’re sourcing electrcity for the motor, it would be more efficient and more compact to discard the motor and utilize the electricity directly.

      Actually, now that I think about it. The hypothetical wearer is meant to take the place of the motor so….

      1. Mine do. Scared the F(n) shit out of me the first time it happened when I was taking a shower.

        I was like WTF who’s touching me and it was just my thighs touching for the first time ever.

  2. I wonder if he considered making the graphite layer into graphene. Perhaps instead if using paper, one could use kapton tape. Basically all of this would be the same, except the kapton tape would be laser etched to convert the graphite to graphene. Regardless, you could make it cheaper by just doing the masking tape trick where you peel the tape away leaving a very thin layer of graphene.


    1. And nobody washes clothing regularly anymore? If you want it to be washable, you probably need to use some velcro and have the option to remove the electronics, so no need for new clothing, just make an addon that you can attach to existing clothing.

      1. I wash my USB data drives all the time. They get left in my pockets and I find then in the bottom of the washing machine.

        I give then a quick rinse in the bathroom and then let them dry for a while and they work fine.

        I test them and still get the same data transfer rates so they must be ok.

        I also do the same with wifi routers and I find that after a good wash their data transfer rate is much cleaner. Maybe it restores some of the missing electrolyte missing from the dried out electrolytic capacitors … who knows.

        I used to also do it with toasters in a bath after I found that it had a very good outcome when my wife wanted a divorce … saved me an absolute fortune.

        Yeah but after that I started lacking in my diagnostic technique because I realized that some solutions are final. several girlfriends really.

        Then I found God and for the first time I had forgiveness for everything I did … and I did a lot … like lots and lots … and God still forgives me today.

        Now that I only find body bags in the bottom of the washing machine … my data is much safer.

  3. at the risk of being a boring old pedant i question teflon being “a natural everyday material” there was something similar a few years ago using tape blowing in the wind i seem to recall.

  4. Remember when static was such an evil that you had to tie yourself to a hard ground before working on, what was then modern electronics? Now it’s a potential source for powering them

  5. Interesting how much ‘interest’ a little static creates! I used to be with the Xilinx CPLD team. Whenever we displayed CoolRunner CPLDs being powered from fruit, the demo would always draw a huge crowd. Last version used cumquats, in series. The inspiration was actually a Cub scout handbook. .

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