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Out at sea, gentle waves provide power for thousands of homes. In cities, dancefloor moves generate electricity for nightclubs. In the countryside, hikers use leg power to recharge their phones.

It is an alluring goal of clean, reliable power free from geo-political risks—and scientists in the United States said Tuesday it lies within reach, thanks to a smart way to harvest energy called tribo-electricity.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology said they had built a simple prototype device that converts stop-start movement into power.

Waves, walking and dancing—even rainfall, computer keys or urban traffic—could one day be harnessed to drive sensors, mobile gadgets or even electricity plants, they contend.

Zhong Lin Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering, described the invention a "breakthrough."

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