A new moisture-driven electricity generation (MEG) device was created by a team of researchers from the College of Design and Engineering (CDE) at the National University of Singapore (NUS). It is made of a thin fabric layer that is about 0.3 millimeters thick, sea salt, carbon ink, and a unique water-absorbing gel.
The foundation of MEG technology is the capability of various materials to produce electricity through their interaction with atmospheric moisture. Due to the potential for a wide range of applications, such as self-powered gadgets like wearable electronics, health monitors, electronic skin sensors, and information storage devices, this field has been attracting increasing interest.
The MEG device is suited for mass manufacturing due to the invention’s scalability, commercially available raw materials that can be obtained, and the low fabrication cost of roughly S$0.15 per square meter.
Leading research professor Tan Swee Ching spoke highly and pridefully of his creation and its low cost, “Our device shows excellent scalability at a low fabrication cost. Compared to other MEG structures and devices, our invention is simpler and easier for scaling-up integrations and connections. We believe it holds vast promise for commercialization.”
Two major issues with existing MEG technologies are 1. the device becoming saturated with water when exposed to ambient humidity and 2. subpar electrical performance. As a result, traditional MEG devices do not produce enough electricity to power electrical equipment sustainably.
To address these issues, a research team led by Assistant Professor Tan Swee Ching from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering within the College of Design and Engineering was able to develop a novel MEG device with two regions of different properties that continuously maintain a difference in water content across the regions to generate electricity and enable electrical output for hundreds of hours.
After the MEG device has been put together, electricity is produced when ions in sea salt split apart as the water gets absorbed in the wet area. The negatively charged carbon nanoparticles absorb free ions with a positive charge (cations). An electric field is created throughout the fabric due to changes to its surface. The cloth can store electricity for later use thanks to these modifications to the surface.
NUS has also successfully shown how its novel technology can be scaled up to generate electricity for various uses. The team assembled three sections of the cloth that produces power and put them in a 3D printed box the size of an AA battery. The voltage of the completed gadget was tested and found to be as high as 1.96V, which is sufficient to power small electronic devices like an alarm clock and is greater than the 1.5V of a typical AA battery.
The researchers intend to investigate potential commercialization options for practical applications after filing a patent application for the invention.