Photo: American Chemical Society

Batteries have been the biggest limitation for portable electronic devices, from cell phones to remote controls. Oftentimes, batteries are the largest and heaviest component of the device, and their limited lifespan means frequent charging and replacement.

But a team from China and the U.S. proposes a futuristic new advance: a self-charging paper structure that could continually generate needed electricity in key functions.

The triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) that was inspired by the Asian arts of paper cutting is described in the journal ACS Nano.

The rhombus is latticed, like a geometric honeycomb. The outer sides have sandpaper coated with gold and graphite. That functions as the supercapacitor, where the energy is stored, they report. The sandpaper had to be precisely tailored into the patterns by a laser cutter before the gold was deposited by vapor deposition, followed by the graphite.

The inner lattice is coated in both gold and a fluorinated ethylene propylene film - and is the energy harvesting TENG portion of the machine.

Squeezing the paper repeatedly over several minutes generates a single volt, report the scientists, from Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, Georgia Tech, Chongqing University, and the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.  

“The electric generation mechanism… is based on the coupling of contract triboelectrification and electrostatic induction,” they write.

The foremost use of such potential technology would be for one-time use in medical science, they report. But it could also be used for remote controls or electric watches.