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Functional nanomaterials for energy harvesting and sensing

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Harvesting energy from ambient mechanical sources in our environment (e.g. underground tunnel vibrations, machinery, walking, etc.) has generated tremendous interest as it offers a fundamental energy solution for ‘small power’ applications, including but not limited to wireless sensors. In this context, piezoelectric and/or triboelectric materials offer the simplest means of directly converting mechanical vibrations, from sources such as moving parts of machines, fluid flow and even body movements, into electrical power for microscale device applications. In particular, nanoscale energy harvesters, or nanogenerators, are capable of converting low-level ambient vibrations into electrical energy, thus paving the way for the realisation of the next generation of self-powered devices. Polymer-based nanogenerators are attractive as they are inherently flexible and robust making them less prone to mechanical failure which is a key requirement for vibrational energy harvesters. They are also lightweight, easy and cheap to fabricate, lead free and biocompatible, but their energy harvesting performance is often found lacking in comparison to more commonly studied inorganic materials. My group thus develops scalable nanofabrication techniques for flexible and low-cost polymer-based nanogenerators with improved energy conversion efficiency, by using facile template-assisted nanowire growth techniques. In this talk, I will discuss our recent advances in incorporating polymer nanowires into scalable piezoelectric and triboelectric nanogenerators and sensors. I will also discuss how we use novel additive manufacturing techniques to develop thermoelectric nanocomposites for thermal energy harvesting from ambient low-grade waste heat sources.

This talk is part of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Flows (IEEF) series.

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