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Harness power from rolling tyres with this nanogenerator

02 Jul 2015  | Rich Pell

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What if you could harness the energy produced by a vehicle's rolling tyres? University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers thought of doing that so they developed a nanogenerator that could harvest friction energy. This technology may enable automobile manufacturers to achieve efficiency from their cars.

The nanogenerator harnesses energy from the changing electric potential between the road and a vehicle's wheels. To do so it relies on the triboelectric effect, a type of contact electrification in which an electric charge is produced from the contact or rubbing together of two unlike objects or materials.

An electrode integrated into a segment of a tyre is used to capture the resulting charge. The researchers see this as a promising way to reclaim some of the energy that is usually lost due to friction.

"The friction between the tyre and the ground consumes about 10 per cent of a vehicle's fuel," says Xudong Wang, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison. "That energy is wasted. So if we can convert that energy, it could give us very good improvement in fuel efficiency."


During initial trials, researchers used a toy car to test the concept of their triboelectric nanogenerator. (Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering)

In their initial trials, the researchers used a toy car with six attached LEDs to demonstrate the concept. Multiple electrodes were attached to the tyres of the toy vehicle, and, as the car rolled across the ground, the LEDs flashed. Measurements showed the maximum instantaneous power obtained was 1.79mW at a load resistance of 10mΩ—corresponding to an energy conversion efficiency of 10.4 per cent.

The researchers also determined that the energy harnessed increases with the weight and speed of a vehicle. Wang estimates about a 10 per cent increase in the average vehicle's gas mileage given a 50 per cent friction energy conversion efficiency.

For more, see the paper at the journal Nano Energy: Single-electrode triboelectric nanogenerator for scavenging friction energy from rolling tires.

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