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Charging smartphones on sound

Music at a concert, the noise of traffic and even the sound of your own voice can be used to charge a smartphone. A prototype device uses an innovative nanogenerator to power up from sound.

Photo: Taylor Ramos /Flickr.com (Creative Commons).

Wireless charging of smartphones and other electronic devices is no longer science fiction, but in the future we might get rid of plugs and cords altogether. Imagine the powerful music of concerts, the cheers of audiences, the incessant murmur of traffic, background noise in a cafe and you own voice powering up the smartphone in your pocket.

Technological research and prototype development by Nokia and Queen Mary University London shows that smartphones can be charged by the everyday soundscape.

The technology was inspired by the discovery that playing pop and rock music enhanced the performance of solar cells. In 2013 material science researchers at the Queen Mary University London reported that acoustic vibrations improved the photovoltatic efficiency of nanocoated solar cells by up to 45 %.

Development engineers at Nokia company sought to collaborate with the research group as they were interested in innovating novel energy solutions for smartphones. The engineers and scientists joined in an experiment to develop a device that would charge on sound.

The collaboration resulted in a prototype smartphone, which uses the energy of soundwaves to charge its batteries.

Nanotechnology plays an important role as the device’s power generator is a metal surface thinly coated with zinc oxide nanorods. At the nanoscale zing oxide rods respond to bending and squeezing by converting mechanical energy into electricity.

In practice the sound waves from everyday sources cause the vibration of the zing oxide nanorods. The energy from the movement of the rods is converted into electrical energy.

According to the team the prototype nanogenerator can push out a high voltage of 5 V, which is enough to charge the phone.

Maija Pollari is a science journalist whose background is in molecular biology research. She enjoys flamenco dancing, reading, and roleplaying adventures.