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Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Scientists from the Clemson Transport Package Testing Laboratory and the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University have received a major grant to study triboelectric generators. The grant, which was given by the National Science Foundation, is worth $500,000 and promises to help researchers more completely understand the mechanisms behind contact electrification. With this research, scientists hope to create packaging so smart that it can actually energize itself.

Triboelectric energy harvesters take mechanical energy and convert it into electrical energy. The electrical energy is then collected; from this point it can be used to charge rechargeable energy cells, which in turn can power an assortment of small electronic devices.

Scientists believe that triboelectric energy, which comes from contact electrification, can be used to create smart packaging. The packaging would come with sensors capable of monitoring products as they are transported. The packaging would be able to harvest it own power and charge itself as needed.

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“The packaging industry is transforming. The demand for and application of smart packaging devices used during the transport and storage of products continues to increase. Most of these devices require power. Development of an energy harvesting device that can harvest power from forces naturally occurring in the distribution environment while possibly mitigating those forces experienced by the product just makes sense.”

Gregory Batt, assistant professor in the food, nutrition and packaging sciences department and director of the Clemson Transport Package Testing Laboratory

Researchers hope to one day achieve packaging that is both smart and economical, capable of protecting its contents from any sort of damage. The sensors would also keep the packaging and the product connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), providing consumers with up-to-date and accurate information about their orders. Users would be able to track more than the location of a package — they’d be able to know instantly about any environmental changes, and keep track of whether the device is functioning correctly.

Additionally, the team believes that the future of batteries and other power devices lies in converting mechanical motion to electricity. It would allow the devices to communicate autonomously without having to rely on an outside source; thus there would be no need to change power sources during transportation.

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