How to power your laptop by typing

You could soon be able to charge your phone or laptop simply by sending a message, thanks to some nifty work from Australia’s RMIT University.

For the first time, they’ve been able to characterize the ability of piezoelectric thin films to turn mechanical pressure into electricity, opening the way for self-powered electronics. Simply tapping on the screen, for example to send a text, could produce enough energy to power a device.

Lead co-author Dr Madhu Bhaskaran says the research brings the potential of piezoelectrics – materials that convert pressure into electrical energy – to thin film technology (TFT) microchips.

“Our study focused on thin film coatings because we believe they hold the only practical possibility of integrating piezoelectrics into existing electronic technology,” she says.

“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.”

The study assessed the energy generation capabilities of piezoelectric thin films at the nanoscale, for the first time precisely measuring the level of power that could be generated.

While the team found that the process currently only generates about a tenth of the power neccessary for a commercial battery, this could be improved in future.

“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.”