Generating electricity from raindrops efficiently has gone one step further. A research team led by scientists from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has recently developed a droplet-based electricity generator (DEG), featured with a field-effect transistor (FET)-like structure that allows for high energy-conversion efficiency and instantaneous power density increased by thousands times compared to its counterparts without FET-like structure. This would help to advance scientific research of water energy generation and tackle the energy crisis.

The research was led together by Professor Wang Zuankai from CityU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Zeng Xiao Cheng from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Professor Wang Zhong Lin, Founding Director and Chief Scientist from Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems of Chinese Academy of Sciences. Their findings were published in the latest issue of journal Nature.

Efficiency of electrical energy conversion greatly improved

Hydropower is nothing new. About 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water. Yet low-frequency kinetic energy contained in waves, tides, and even raindrops are not efficiently converted into electrical energy due to limitations in current technology. For example, a conventional droplet energy generator based on the triboelectric effect can generate electricity induced by contact electrification and electrostatic induction when a droplet hits a surface. However, the amount of charges generated on the surface is limited by the interfacial effect, and as a result, the energy conversion efficiency is quite low.

In order to improve the conversion efficiency, the research team has spent two years developing the DEG. Its instantaneous power density can reach up to 50.1 W/m2, thousands times higher than other similar devices without the use of FET-like design. And the energy conversion efficiency is markedly higher.

Professor Wang from CityU pointed out that there are two crucial factors for the invention. First, the team found that the continuous droplets impinging on PTFE, an electret material with a quasi-permanent electric charge, provides a new route for the accumulation and storage of high-density surface charges. They found that when water droplets continuously hit the surface of PTFE, the surface charges generated will accumulate and gradually reach a saturation. This new discovery helped to overcome the bottleneck of low charge density encountered in previous work.

Read more at City University of Hong Kong