editor's blog
Subscribe Now

Paper Harvester?

My skeptic senses are tingling a bit here… Perhaps unfairly; let’s see.

Energy harvesting is a big deal these days, with folks off trying to scavenge enough power to do useful things without the need for an external connection or a battery. Is it possible to take an old party trick and rebrand it as energy harvesting?

Disney has been getting a fair bit of attention over their “paper energy harvester.” Here’s the deal: paper and Teflon are rubbed together, creating a field via the triboelectric effect. The Teflon takes electrons from the paper, setting up an electret. It’s high voltage, low power: around 1000 V open circuit, 40-50 mW through 1 MΩ.

Let’s switch around the language and materials a bit and see if looks at all familiar. Tribozeau the Clown comes to a kids’ birthday party with balloons aplenty. He dazzles them by taking a balloon and rubbing it on his baggy pants. He holds it near a child’s hair; the hair sticks out, yearning for contact with the balloon. He then sticks the balloon to the wall, where it dutifully remains in defiance of gravity. He explains this (as if anyone is listening) as “static electricity.”

Once I watched the demos of the paper harvester, I couldn’t help feeling like all we’re seeing there is good old-fashioned static electricity (which is what the hoi polloi would call it; “triboelectricity” seems so much more elegant).

Depending on the mechanical configuration, you can tap, rotate, rub, or slide the surface with your fingers to generate the effect. The difference from the party trick appears to be that they’ve harnessed it to do something: activate e-paper, blink some lights, whatever might be possible with the given power budget.

It’s a real-time thing only; no energy is being stored. Use it or lose it. My sense is that it’s interesting for interactive displays; Discovery Museum kind of stuff. I can’t decide if it’s more than a gimmick. Granted, for an entertainment company like Disney, there could be something here. But beyond that?

Perhaps it could serve as an actuator – you know, for, say, a light switch. Just enough to kick on the mains juice. But does it have benefits over alternative approaches? Part of what’s touted is its simplicity – you could build it at home. But again, that’s Science Fair stuff – does it matter commercially?

What do you think? Am I missing something here? Is this more than I’m seeing? And are there significant use opportunities that are whooshing madly over my head?

Click here to see their original paper (as PDF).

Leave a Reply

featured blogs
Dec 17, 2018
If row-based placement is a topic that interests you, you might have read our post from the last week . If you haven'€™t read it yet, I'€™d highly recommend it for its focus on the need and benefits of... [[ Click on the title to access the full blog on the Cadence Commu...
Dec 13, 2018
In November, we continued our mobile updates to the website, released a couple of new content experiences, and made placing sample requests even easier. Read more below on these and the rest of the major updates to Samtec.com for November 2018. Continued Improvements to our M...
Dec 12, 2018
The possibilities for IoT devices, much like the internet itself, are endless. But with all of those possibilities comes risks....
Nov 14, 2018
  People of a certain age, who mindfully lived through the early microcomputer revolution during the first half of the 1970s, know about Bill Godbout. He was that guy who sent out crudely photocopied parts catalogs for all kinds of electronic components, sold from a Quon...