How the Japanese Art of Paper Cutting Could Change the Future of Electronics

The ancient art of paper cutting doesn't exactly sound like the futuristic technology that will revolutionize powering your portable electronics. Surprise: it just may be. Meet the self-charging paper device.

Researchers have developed a paper-based device inspired by the Chinese and Japanese arts of paper-cutting that can harvest and store energy from body movements.

Say "Triboelectric Nanogenerator" Five Times Fast

For a few years, researchers have been working on a way to use the energy produced by your body's movements to power devices like heart monitors and hearing aids. The most promising candidates? Devices called triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), which can use mechanical energy — like the kind generated when you take a few steps — to power these little devices.

Unfortunately, says the researchers' press release, TENG devices up until this point aren't that efficient — they take a few hours to charge something as small as a sensor — and have been made of acrylic, which is heavy. So the researchers turned to history to help create a cutting-edge future.

The Major Breakthrough

In a paper published in April 2017 in the journal ACS Nano, researchers detailed how the traditional Chinese and Japanese technique of paper-cutting — basically, the art of slicing unique designs in paper — may be the key to the development of "lightweight, superportable, and sustainable power sources" for devices including remote controls, watches, and temperature sensors.

The key is a rhombic paper-cut design just a few inches long. The inside edges are simple paper covered in gold and a fluorinated ethylene propylene film, which helps the design function as a TENG energy harvester. The outside edges are sandpaper coated with material like gold and graphite, which helps it store that energy. With enough movement, the new devices could charge in a matter of minutes. Who knew the future of power could be so artistic?

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Written by Stephanie Bucklin April 21, 2017

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