With a title like that, I’m sure I’ll get a lot of organic clicks, because who wouldn’t be excited by the opportunity to read a post about triboelectric nanogenerators? So, I admit that this might not sound like something you should get excited about, and that you might not even know what it is, but, well, learning about these in a recent paper is part of why I keep reading scientific papers – because every now and then, you come across one that informs you of a technology that might just change the world.

The paper, “Gas-liquid two-phase flow-based triboelectric nanogenerator with ultrahigh power output,” was recently published in Science Advances, and is well worth reading – it’s not even that opaque, by the standards of scientific papers – but if not, maybe just watch the videos at the end of these tiny generators powering actual lights. Or, just read the beginning, where it makes quite clear just why this technology is so remarkable, and why I am so excited about the research the paper presents.

I’d heard of triboelectric nanogenerators before – many years ago, I read about them as a possible way to power wearable devices without needing batteries that must either be charged or replaced. That wasn’t very exciting to me, although the technology was interesting. In essence, any triboelectric nanogenerator is converting the energy that is usually lost as friction into useful electrical energy. Now, T-shirts with LED displays that can make me into a walking advertisement don’t excite me, but how about a version of this technology that runs on seawater and could power the entire world just based on the motion of waves? That, now, that’s exciting. That’s the kind of technology that makes me want to invest in a 3D printer and start playing with some of my own.

This is the kind of renewable energy that isn’t getting enough discussion. All of the focus politically seems to be on wind and solar, which means that alternatives that may be superior but have not gotten as much press are likely to fall by the wayside. Unlike nuclear energy, which has a problem with a negative image, potential new technologies like these triboelectric nanogenerators have the problem of no image at all. Not that they are without flaw, and obviously they are still in a very early stage of research and development, but there is enormous potential here. Plus, this technology would not be nearly as beholden to batteries as traditional renewable energy techniques.

Anyway, we may have a more detailed discussion on this technology later on, but I wanted to share this paper with you while the research was fresh. I hope you give it a read.

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