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Wouldn’t it be amazing to never have to worry about your cell phone or iPod losing power? Well, that may soon be a reality. On Tuesday, March 29, The American Chemical Society announced that it created the first practical nanogenerator that can produce electricity through the work of your own body.
A nanogenerator is a flexible chip that can use body movements to create electricity. The group of scientists working on this project demonstrated by squeezing the nanogenerator between two fingers and using it to power an LED light and a liquid crystal display used in many electronic devices. Nanogenerators have actually been around for years, but this team was able to boost the device’s power output and voltage so that it could eventually be used to power entire electronic devices, such as an iPod, rather than just one LED light.
Zhong Lin Wang, the lead scientist on this project, explains that the key to the nanogenerator is zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires which can generate an electric current when they are strained or flexed. This action of straining or flexing the ZnO nanowires can come from any movement — your fingers, walking, rolling tires, or even your heartbeat, eventually. In fact, five nanogenerators stacked on top of each other can create the power equivalent to two regular AA batteries, but the nanogenerators take up a fraction of the space, with each flexible polymer chip being about a quarter of the size of a postage stamp.
Wang says the next step is to boost the nanogenerator’s power even further and find a manufacturer for them. He believes this technology will be commercially available in about 5 years. What Wang does not mention is any sort of patent or patent application for this new technology. This announcement and demonstration would likely qualify as a “printed publication” under Section 102(b) of the Patent Act, and thus, he has one year to file his patent application, or it will be rejected. Wang and his team would want a patent on this new technology in order to make money either by being the only one in the industry to make it or by selling licenses to make the technology. Most likely, Wang will get his patent and then assign it to whatever company or manufacturer places the highest bid; then that company will be able to make it and sell it in their products. Does anyone else see a fight brewing between Apple and Microsoft? Either way, keep your hearts in shape, because in a few years your heart won’t just be beating to keep you alive, but to keep your smartphone alive too.
– Megan LaDriere
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