Breakthrough in water and energy harvesting

Energy harvestingIn a collaborative effort between Professor Kevin Golovin’s DREAM Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering and Professor Ning Yan’s group from the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, a groundbreaking study will be published in the October 2023 issue of Nano Energy. The research team has developed a nature-inspired surface capable of harvesting both water and triboelectric energy from surrounding humidity.

Inspired by nature’s ingenuity
Taking inspiration from the remarkable Namib desert beetle, renowned for its water harvesting abilities, scientists designed a surface that mimics the beetle’s wettability pattern. This design enables the simultaneous capture of water droplets and the conversion of mechanical energy into electrical energy.

Polymer coatings as the key
The team coated conductive glass with eco-friendly perfluoropolyether (PFPE) polymer brushes. These coatings create a hydrophobic surface with hydrophilic patterns, allowing water droplets to slide down and accumulate while also facilitating triboelectric energy generation. The PFPE brushes also serve as the “tribonegative” material, contributing to the energy harvesting process.

Efficiency and performance
The researchers extensively tested the “patterned water and energy harvesting” (P-WEH) system’s capabilities. Placed in artificial fog conditions, the P-WEH achieved an impressive water collection rate of 703 mg cm-2 h-1. By studying pattern size, tilt angle, droplet volume, and speed, they optimized the triboelectric output. A 100 cm² P-WEH surface with a 60° tilt angle delivered an outstanding output current of 8.15 µA and a maximum output power of 3.35 µW.

Real-world application
Demonstrating its real-world viability, the P-WEH system was integrated into a four-season greenhouse. This showcased its potential to effectively reduce external water and energy consumption. This innovative approach not only provides a sustainable solution to the water and energy crisis but also contributes to building a greener, more resilient society.

Paving the way for sustainability
By providing valuable insights into the development of water and energy harvesting systems, this study marks a significant step towards creating a more sustainable world. The cross-disciplinary collaboration between mechanical and chemical engineering has yielded a solution that harnesses nature’s wisdom to address critical challenges.

For more details, read the full paper titled, Nature-inspired surface for simultaneously harvesting water and triboelectric energy from ambient humidity using polymer brush coatings, now available online ahead of print on ScienceDirect. This research opens doors to innovative possibilities for a better future.