Imagine powering your cell phone by simply walking around your office or rubbing it with the palm of your hand. Rather than plugging it into the wall, you become the power source. Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed the first triboelectric nanogenerator, or "TENG." The team paired two sheets of different materials together — one donates electrons, and the other accepts them. When the sheets touch, electrons flow from one to the other. When the sheets are separated, a voltage develops between them.

Sliding two materials together generates enough electricity to power a row of LEDs. (Georgia Tech)

The team has since boosted the power output density by a factor of 100,000, with the output power density reaching 300 Watts per square meter. Now with one stomp of a foot, the researchers can light up a sheet with a thousand LED bulbs.

TENG has been incorporated into shoe insoles, whistles, foot pedals, floor mats, backpacks, and ocean buoys for a variety of potential applications. These gadgets harness the power of everyday motion from the minute (think vibrations, rubbing, stepping) to the global and endless (waves). These movements produce mechanical energy that has been around us all along, but scientists didn't know how to convert it directly to usable power in a sustainable way until now.

The group is now working on commercializing products to recharge cellphones and other mobile devices using TENG. Down the road, these nanogenerators can make a far bigger impact on a much larger scale. Researchers could use the technology to tap into the endless energy of ocean waves, raindrops, and the wind all around us — with tiny generators rather than towering turbines.