Tribologists develop self-powered sensors

Published: 19 February 2019

Tribology researchers at Luleå University of Technology are developing a sensor that can generate electricity from different types of movements or vibrations, to become self-sufficient. Vinnova finances the project and the sensor is expected to strengthen the competitiveness of Swedish industry.

Tribology is the science of surfaces that move towards each other and include friction, wear and lubrication. Tribology is thus everywhere, including the human body. A few years ago, researchers discovered that tribology could also be used for electricity production using so-called triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG). These nanogenerators can generate electricity from different types of vibrations, from which self-driven sensor systems can be developed. It thus solves the problem of power supply for condition monitoring sensors, which would enable a much easier implementation in various equipment and machines.

– For a year, we will work on developing early prototypes of new TENG technology that could be used for self-powered sensors. Our TENG sensor will be based on liquid metal with great electrical potential. The next step is to evaluate the properties of the material and how it affects the sensor's sensitivity and stability, says Yijun Shi, associate professor at the Division of Machine Elements, Luleå University of Technology.

Traditional sensors often require to be powered by external electricity from either batteries or cables. The drawback of powering sensors through cables is obvious since it will complicate the installation and lead to a higher cost. The reliability of battery capacity limits battery driven sensor networks with large amounts of small sensor nodes due to the limited life and periodic replacement of batteries. Batteries also increase the environmental impact of such systems.

– The TENG sensor can solve these problems by being self-driven, flexible, light and cost-effective. It can also be used for the wireless data transfer system of industry 4.0, which is about the ever-connected smart factory of the future.

The video below shows “tribology lights” powered by TENG technology.


Yijun Shi

Shi, Yijun - Associate Professor, Associated professor

Organisation: Machine Elements, Machine Elements, Department of Engineering Sciences and Mathematics
Phone: +46 (0)920 492064
Room: E839a - Luleå»
Pär Marklund

Marklund, Pär - Professor

Organisation: Machine Elements, Machine Elements, Department of Engineering Sciences and Mathematics
Phone: +46 (0)920 492415
Room: E843 - Luleå»