Droplet Like It’s Hot

Precipitation power hits its stride in the hydro generation world

This one isn’t for the cynics out there.

Scientists from the City University of Hong Kong say their water droplet-based electricity generator allows a very high energy conversion efficiency with a thousand times more power density than other electric generators.

No, it probably won’t have application fluency any time soon. However, this is not the first time raindrops have been explored for their generational power. If you think about it, the method is actually just a refined branch of hydropower, which has a long history (even our government admits it).

“Generating electricity from raindrops efficiently has gone one step further,” the research team, by Professor Wang Zuankai from CityU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and others (listed below), stated in a February 6 article posted on the university website. The team detailed its recent development of 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, according to the researchers, would help to advance scientific research of water energy generation and tackle the energy crisis.

Yes, it’s about as far as could be from “old reliable” generator models that traditionalists would back. I can see them scoffing now. Yet, the team of researchers say it could convert one droplet of rain to enough power for 100 LED light bulbs…and they began by building on a traditional framework. A key feature of their design is a unique set of structures similar to a FET, which is a Nobel Prize in Physics winning innovation in 1956 and has become the basic building block of modern electronic devices nowadays.

The device consists of an aluminium electrode, and an indium tin oxide (ITO) electrode with a film of PTFE deposited on it. The PTFE/ITO electrode is responsible for the charge generation, storage, and induction. When a falling water droplet hits and spreads on the PTFE/ITO surface, it naturally “bridges” the aluminium electrode and the PTFE/ITO electrode, translating the original system into a closed-loop electric circuit.

“With this special design, a high density of surface charges can be accumulated on the PTFE through continuous droplet impinging. Meanwhile, when the spreading water connects the two electrodes, all the stored charges on the PTFE can be fully released for the generation of electric current. As a result, both the instantaneous power density and energy conversion efficiency are much higher.”

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 the highly prestigious scientific journal Nature, titled “A droplet-based electricity generator with high instantaneous power density”.

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