Nano-research pushes towards the everlasting battery

Imagine a future where recharging your tablet could be as easy as typing a tweet
In a crucial step towards the development of self-powering portable electronics, researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne have for the first time characterised the ability of piezoelectric thin films to turn mechanical pressure into electricity.

The pioneering result was published in the June 21 issue of the leading materials science journal, Advanced Functional Materials. Lead co-author Dr Madhu Bhaskaran said the research combined the potential of piezoelectrics - materials capable of converting pressure into electrical energy - and the cornerstone of microchip manufacturing, thin film technology.

"The power of piezoelectrics could be integrated into running shoes, to charge mobile phones, enable laptops to be powered through typing or even used to convert blood pressure into a power source for pacemakers - essentially creating an everlasting battery," she said.

"The concept of energy harvesting using piezoelectric nanomaterials has been demonstrated but the realisation of these structures can be complex and they are poorly suited to mass fabrication.
"Our study focused on thin film coatings because we believed they held the only practical possibility of integrating piezoelectrics into existing electronic technology."

The Australian Research Council-funded study assessed the energy generation capabilities of piezoelectric thin films at the nanoscale, for the first time precisely measuring the level of electrical voltage and current - and therefore, power - that could be generated.

Dr Bhaskaran co-authored the study with Dr Sharath Sriram, within RMIT's Microplatforms Research Group, led by Professor Arnan Mitchell. The pair collaborated with Australian National University's Dr Simon Ruffell on the research.

"With the drive for alternative energy solutions, we need to find more efficient ways to power microchips, which are the building blocks of everyday technology like the smarter phone or faster computer," Dr Bhaskaran said.

"The next key challenge will be amplifying the electrical energy generated by the piezoelectric materials to enable them to be integrated into low-cost, compact structures."

RMIT, the Destination for Research.
RMIT has four research Institutes and one research centre designed to expand research endeavours through broad collaboration across RMIT with external partners.

Designing the future
Our academics work collaboratively across disciplines from architecture to engineering and science, enabling inspired solutions for a future based on design.

Smart technology solutions
Researchers at RMIT are developing innovative solutions to complex technical challenges such as combating malaria, striving for Olympic gold and manufacturing the next generation of aircraft.

Improving health and lifestyle
RMIT academics undertake research in traditional and complementary medicine: from identifying active compounds of cone shell toxins and their effects, to using ancient Chinese medicines for lung disease.

Sustainability and climate change challenges
RMIT's whole-of-system approach tackles issues such as greenhouse gases on water and food sources, the potential impacts of climate change on different species and effective climate change policy.

The future of cities
Research at RMIT is developing solutions to the new challenges arising from rapid urban growth and the social and environmental issues of urban densification, increased crime rates and homelessness.
Sri Lankan student Chathuri Lakshika Jayasinghe is studying a Doctor of Philosophy (Statistics and Operations Research). She states:

'The postgraduate degree conducted by RMIT has a good balance of theory and practice, which is vital.'
'I chose RMIT because of the University's reputation; my supervisor's reputation, expertise in my topic and commitment to research; my liking for the topic I am working on at the moment; and the informal and friendly environment at the department. 'For a research student, all these things are essential in order to become a successful researcher.'

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