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September 13th, 2007
All that rubbing of your backpack straps on your shoulders may be put to good use, now that researchers have designed a novel type of energy harvesting backpack. The pack has straps made of a piezoelectric material that can convert the mechanical strain on the straps into electrical energy that may power or recharge portable electronics.
One of the biggest challenges in designing the straps was finding an extremely robust and durable electrode, since typical electrodes cannot tolerate the high levels of strain imposed by the straps. The researchers teamed up with a company in Blacksburg, Virginia called NanoSonic, Inc., that provided a self-assembled nanocomposite material called "Metal RubberTM" to tailor an advanced electrode. Using nanotechnology to control its macroscopic properties, the researchers fabricated a 100-nm-thick electrode that could undergo strains of 1000% while maintaining conductivity, and then return to its original shape when released.
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