Forest residue could power your phone

Mobile devices and video games may soon be powered by residue from forests, science researchers at the University of Limerick have discovered.

Forest residue could power your phone

The researchers at the University’s Bernal Institute also discovered earlier this year how to generate electricity from human tears.

Their latest research has found that mobile phone speakers and motion detectors in cars and video games may soon be powered by electricity generated from low cost and sustainable biomaterials.

The researchers found that the biomolecule glycine, when tapped or squeezed, can generate enough electricity to power electrical devices in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable way.

The research was published in leading international journal Nature Materials.

Glycine, a simple amino acid, which occurs in practically all agri and forestry residues, can be produced at less than 1% of the cost of currently used piezoelectric materials.

“It is really exciting that such a tiny molecule can generate so much electricity,” said Sarah Guerin, lead author and Science Foundation Ireland funded post-graduate researcher at the Department of Physics and the Bernal Institute, UL.

“We used computer models to predict the electrical response of a wide range of crystals and the glycine number was off the charts. We then grew long, narrow crystals of glycine in alcohol and we produced electricity just by tapping them,” she said.

PhD supervisor Damien Thompson said: “The predictive models we are developing can save years of trial-and-error lab work.

"The modelling data tells us what kinds of crystals to grow and where best to cut and press those crystals to generate electricity.”

Professor Tofail Syed, co-author and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Centre for Medical Devices (CURAM) investigator, said: “We also have a patent pending that translates our findings to applications such as biodegradable power generation, devices detecting diseases inside of the body and physiologically controlled drug pumps.”

Previously, Bernal scientists discovered piezoelectricity in the globular protein lysozyme, found in tears, egg-white and saliva, and hydroxyapatite, a component of bone.

“The current finding extends the technology towards pragmatic, low-cost, renewable sources for electricity generation,” said Professor Luuk van der Wielen, director of the Bernal Institute and Bernal Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Design.

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