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The pop-science vision of clothing that generates electrical culture has moved a step closer. Research at RMIT University and the Australian National University on thin-film piezo-electrics could help open the door to materials that recharge small devices like mobile phones from someone using the keyboard.

The study, published in Advanced Functional Materials, is an important practical step in efficient manufacturing of thin-film peizo-electrical devices.

The universities haven’t produced a new material: their work looks at how difficult it is to characterize devices in the manufacturing process.

While plenty of laboratories have demonstrated small-scale thin-film piezo-electric devices, their application on a mass scale depends on high manufacturing yields. Testing individual nano-scale devices is the focus of this work, as lead co-author of the work, Dr Madhu Bhaskaran explained.

“The concept of energy harvesting using piezo-electric nanomaterials has been demonstrated, but the realization of these structures can be complex and they are poorly suited to mass fabrication.”

Their study demonstrated that it’s possible to test the voltage generated, and the current that can be delivered, by devices at the nano-scale. Moreover, this is conducted “in-situ” – that is, without having to try to isolate devices before characterization.

The next step, Dr Bhaskaran said, is to find piezo-electric materials with higher output. ®

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