Power Equipment Australasia

OPINION The Next Generation of Generators There are business and product opportunities presented by the next generation of generators. Or if you are like me and just like a new gadget, I have got some generators here that I am sure you have never heard of. The last edition of this magazine featured a compact device which looked like a tube, the size of a ruler. Just add 10ml of water to it, shake it and 100 LEDs illuminate. This demonstration device produces electricity by rubbing two dissimilar materials together in a process called triboelectric nanogenerators. (TENG). TENGs are under research by over 5,000 scientists worldwide but we still do not have a commercial product to buy. While TENG devices can produce lots of party tricks, the challenge has been to get a mass produced TENG, or even two handmade devices to act exactly the same. The potential of these micro generators is enormous. Imagine if your shoes or your shirt could produce enough power to keep your phone charged just from walking around. Think about never having to swap the battery in your car remote, watch or emergency torch. TENGs were accidentally discovered when researching piezoelectric generation, which produce small amounts of electricity when pressure is applied. Piezoelectric research has been around for a lot longer and we see it around the home in devices like a gas barbeque lighter, producing enough spark to ignite the LPG flame. But the future is TENG, which already produces a lot more power with efficiencies of around 15 per cent. A modern solar panel delivers more than 25 per cent efficiency, but they have been in development for a lot longer. How long do you think? I have a copy of the Wall Street Journal on my bookshelf with the front page announcing that Bell Labs have developed what they called a ‘solar battery’ but you and I call them solar panels. The date on the newspaper? April 25, 1954. So, is nothing really new? There is little development or investment in traditional generators. I was recently at a sugar mill where they store the cane crushing waste or bagasse. That, along with other combustible waste like sawmill offcuts, is burnt to boil water and produce steam. This steam is used directly in the sugar milling process and also to drive a mechanical turbine to generate electricity for sale to the grid. Even though this is a waste product and not coal that is being burned, it still releases carbon and so has a limited future. Thermoelectric generator (TEG) is another technology with potential. TEGs have found use on the Mars Rover and in powering a small electric fan attached to a wood-burning fire chimney to spread the heat around the cabin. If you leave aside solar panels, no one has developed a TEG that can do much more than charge a phone. However, in a novel approach, a joint team from UCLA and Stanford have developed a 26 | POWER EQUIPMENT AUSTRALASIA | JULY - AUGUST 2022