Powering Phones with Background Noise Instead of Batteries

Powering Phones with Background Noise Instead of Batteries

New research in piezoelectronics brings us closer to self-charging tech

Janet Burns
  • 15 august 2014

Future cell phone users may never need to plug in, new research suggests. Thanks to advances in harnessing piezoelectronics, phones and other gadgets can charge their batteries from the sounds and vibrations around them.


Piezoelectrics are materials that generate an electric charge when twisted, bent, or otherwise stressed, and much previous research has involved collecting exerted mechanical energy through shoes and floors with piezoelectric generators.

In 2010, Korean researches first proposed the idea of harnessing the energy from sound waves to power cell phones and other mobile gadgets using the reciprocal nature of piezoelectrics; “[j]ust as speakers transform electric signals into sound, the opposite process – of turning sound into a source of electrical power – is possible,” said Young Jun Park and Sang-Woo Kim, co-authors of the study.

At that time, the researchers were only able to generate about 50 millivolts — significantly less than the 4 or 5 volts required to charge a cell phone. Recently, however, a partnership between Nokia and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has succeeded generating the needed voltage with the technology.


As reported, the team created an energy-harvesting nanogenerator that can use background noise — such as voices, music, and traffic sounds — to charge a mobile phone. As QMUL’s Dr. Joe Briscoe explains,

Being able to keep mobile devices working for longer, or do away with batteries completely by tapping into the stray energy that is all around us is an exciting concept. We hope that we have brought this technology closer to viability.


Like the Korean team, the Nokia and QMUL researchers used a spraying technique to form zinc oxide into a sheet of nanorods. The minute nanorods bend in response to sound waves, creating stress and generating electricity. While gold has traditionally been used as a highly conductive material in electrical mechanisms, the team found that zinc oxide — also highly conductive — can serve as a cheaper alternative for mass use.

Another more cost-effective alternative for power generation comes from researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley Natural Laboratory, who developed a piezoelectric bacteria-eating virus. With a single finger tap, thin layers of the virus were found to generate 6 nanoamps of current and 400 millivolts of potential, which is enough to power a small liquid-crystal display or about one fourth of a AAA battery’s power.

[h/t] ScienceAlert

Images: SoftPedia, GizMag, Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Craig Warga/New York Daily News


Bringing Food Innovation To America's Crowded Milk Market

Mobile Today

This Startup Wants To Digitize The Loose Coins In Your Pocket

CoinOut is a new app that lets you save your extra change from cash transactions as electronic funds

Advertising Today

McDonald’s Is Accepting Trash As Currency In Exchange For Burgers

An initiative in Stockholm is trying to keep streets clean while satisfying hunger


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Culture Today

Google Is Using Virtual Paper Airplanes To Bring People Closer Together

The tech giant released an app that lets people throw their good wishes out into the world on the International Day of Peace

Advertising Today

Get Paid For Traveling In San Francisco After Rush Hour

BART Perks rewards commuters who take early or late trains by giving them extra points to trade for money

Related Expert

Scott Thrift

Patient Horologist

Culture Today

Artist Designs Covers For Books That Don’t Exist

Published by the fictional "Specious Books," the subversive works facilitate a conversation regarding the artistic integrity of graphic designers

Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: The Arrival Of The People-First Workplace

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX enumerate the reasons why companies need an employee-embracing workforce in order to exist

Financial Services Today

Device Makes Digital Currency Feel Tangible

The concept gadget wants you to experience the highs and lows of spending money


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed september 23, 2016

Productivity Expert: The Magic Of The Five-Hour Workday

Stephan Aarstol, Founder of Tower Paddle Boards, explains why the modern notion of office hours needs to evolve

PSFK Labs september 22, 2016

The Future Of Work: Why Innovation Is Every Employee’s Job

PSFK Labs sits down with management at Johnson & Johnson to learn how the company comes up with their next ‘big idea’

Advertising Today

Lyft Gives Free Rides To Those Who Have Had Too Much To Drink

Thanks to a new partnership between the ride sharing service and Budweiser, drunk passengers are able to receive free rides

Design & Architecture Today

Why Building Better Offices Is The Key To Employee Engagement

Interaction Designer and Audio-visual Technologist at ESI Design illustrates the value in creating environments filled with surprise and delight

Augmented / Virtual Reality Today

NBC Is Planning To Stream The Presidential Debates In Virtual Reality

Partnering with AltspaceVR, the broadcaster offers another way for Americans to engage with the election season

Travel Today

What Happens When An Entire Airport Terminal Rebrands Itself?

JFK's Terminal 4 underwent a dramatic design facelift to guide and delight travelers

Home september 23, 2016

Watch This Fire Pit Dance Along To Your Favorite Song

Music City Fire is a system that is designed to flicker in time to ambient music


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Automotive september 23, 2016

Slick GPS Navigator Gives Directions To Moped Riders

This small, round device attaches to a sideview mirror to display maps for safer traveling

Home september 23, 2016

A Clock That Beautifully Manages Your Information Overload

The wall-mounted timekeeper is made to help people maintain focus and stay up to date with their appointments

Arts & Culture september 23, 2016

Performance Piece Blends Dancers Into Folds Of Light

The work provides commentary on the increasing connection between programmed and analog dimensions

No search results found.