Generating electricity from a sheet of paper

E-paper displays like Kindles use an extraordinarily low amount of power; so low, it turns out, that brushing your hand across their surface could be enough to power them in the future.

A team at Disney Research has developed flat, flexible power generators that can be incorporated into sheets of paper, plastic or other common materials, allowing people to generate electricity in novel ways. The team sandwiched materials like Teflon between sheets of another conductive material. When rubbed, the materials generate an electric current that can power an electronic device.

Disney Research electronic paper

“Though the fundamental principles of operation remain the same, it’s possible to build paper generators that respond to a number of different gestures, such as tapping, touching, rubbing or sliding,” Interaction Group director Ivan Poupyrev said in a release. “We can imagine any number of ways to use this to add sights, sounds and other interactivity to books and other printed materials inexpensively and without having to worry about power sources.”

The devices can be built in less than five minutes. A regular printer can be loaded with conductive ink, allowing it to print out the sheets of conductive material. They generate a very low amount of power, which means they are only suited to low-power devices.

“It’s very simple, it’s flexible and it’s printable using conventional printers,” team member Mustafa Karagozler said in the release. “It’s a technology with potential applications we’ve only begun to explore.”