Category Archives: Energy

Be a doll and generate your own energy…

A long-winded look at the trials and tribulations of triboelectricity, with a brief sally into silly sculpture:


And videos of the serious research parts of the project:

(Just the TENG, no capacitor, no load, spiking around 10-15 volts per whack)

(The TENG with .1uF capacitor, smoother charge/discharge curves of around half a volt)

(The TENG with .01uF capacitor, broader peaks of around 3 volts, and then with an LED load)

(Multi-Layer TENG with .01uF capacitor, with and without LED, showing a little more power but still no visible light from the LED)

And a video of the baby, because why not?

Sustainable Evil


Meet Lil’ Beelzebub, the adorable doll that shoots beams of pure evil from its eyes when you rub its hair!! No batteries required!

The more serious proposal is to create a working triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) using strips of teflon and acrylic film, and demonstrate the concept by mounting it as the “hair” of a doll and using the power harvested from it to light up the doll’s eyes. I intend to build on the research of Professor Zhong Lin Wang’s group at Georgia Tech, who have published a number of papers on different methods of generating, harvesting and storing triboelectric energy.

I’m hesitant to propose a specific bill of materials at this point, as at least half of this project will be experimentation before the final piece is assembled, but at a minimum it will involve:

teflon film

acrylic film

copper foil




As of right now, I have the teflon and acrylic films (as well as plenty of copper foil and a decent selection of capacitors) and am ready to begin experiments.  My first main concerns are establishing that the process works as I think it does, and secondarily, figuring out how to integrate the triboelectric surfaces with the electrodes. Then I will move on to harvesting and storage systems (paying special attention to the very high transient voltages that are likely to be generated) and finally construction of the doll itself. My goal is to have informed answers to the first two questions by next week, and then proceed based on that information.

Further reading on TENGs:

The Little Robot that Could (Burn Down the Building)


A robot that attempts to light a match!


The circuit is a Miller Solar Engine, employing a single 65mm solar panel, a TC54 voltage detector and 4700 uF and 10 uF capacitors to periodically fire a low-voltage motor and grind a match head on a striker held against it by a spring.

Total storage capacitance is 4700 uF; at the 3.16V triggering voltage of the circuit, the system is storing and then releasing 0.0235 joules of energy. The timing capacitor across the voltage detector has a capacitance of 10 uF.

(NB: out of an abundance of caution, we’re replacing the real match with a dummy match if/when our robot is put on display)

Turntable Generator

For this assignment, our group, consisting of Jared Friedman, Naoki Ishizuka, Yuan Gao and Nicola Carpeggiani, decided to try to create light by spinning a record-player turntable. We theorized that every turntable would have a motor that could be used not only to play a vinyl record but also to generate electricity from kinetic energy.

Our first goal was to maintain the original audio structure of the turntable, to create sounds at the same time as energy while the user was spinning the turntable, but that turned out to be impossible given everything we had to modify to make the turntable work as a generator.

Here’s the process :

We found a used Kenwood kd 29-r belt traction turntable, and we opened it up to check what was inside it and to see if we could use the built-in DC servo motor as a generator.


As we can see in the photo, the DC servo, with the green label on it, is the original motor. This motor drove a belt system, which spun the platter around a fixed spindle in the center. After trying and failing to generate a voltage from its power connections, we decided to completely replace both motor and spindle with a five-wire stepper motor placed with its shaft where the spindle had been. We shimmed it with a piece of silicone sheet we found on the junk shelf to couple the platter with the shaft.


Unfortunately for us, the spindle had been doing a great deal of work stabilizing the motion – without the tightly-engineered shaft and bearing in place, the platter wobbled quite a bit as it spun. We got around this by nudging it into as cooperative a place as we could, and liberally coating all interior surfaces with white lithium grease.


As an output, we used 6 white LEDs. We put them in parallel with a 1-F 5.5V capacitor to collect the unused energy made by the spin of the turntable. While it took quite a bit of time to charge initially (spinning the motor and outputting no light), the capacitor eventually allowed a nicely sustained glow from the LEDs after the user stopped actively spinning.


After that, we covered the platter with another metal plate, which both stabilized things further and stored some excess kinetic energy as a very rudimentary flywheel.

Measurements we took from the system were a peak open circuit voltage of 5.5+ volts, and a short circuit current of around 30 mA, again fluctuating wildly with user input.



The results were not what we had expected at the start, because we originally wanted to also play an LP while spinning/scratching, but in the end, we definitely created light from kinetic energy, and learned a great deal about the difficulties and peculiarities of the process.