Smart technology deserves smart packaging and a Clemson professor and an alumnus are combining forces to develop packaging so smart it can energize itself.
Gregory Batt, an assistant professor in the food, nutrition and packaging sciences department and director of the Clemson Transport Package Testing Laboratory, and James Gibert, a Clemson alumnus and assistant professor at in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, have received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study triboelectric generators to understand the mechanisms behind contact electrification, the basis of triboelectric devices.
Triboelectric energy harvesters convert mechanical energy to electrical energy, which is collected and used to charge rechargeable energy cells to power small electronic devices.
The work will provide the foundation for technology for smart packaging and powering sensors to monitor products while they are transported. It focuses on developing smart packages that can harvest their own power.
"The packaging industry is transforming," Batt said. "The demand for and application of smart packaging devices used during the transport and storage of products continues to increase. Most of these devices require power. Development of an energy harvesting device that can harvest power from forces naturally occurring in the distribution environment while possibly mitigating those forces experienced by the product just makes sense."
"Smart" or "intelligent" packaging solutions include printed electronics, smart labels capable of illumination, time-temperature indicators and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags used for tracking and quick package identification.
"We will build on our previous work with modeling the vibration response of complex foam materials so that we can determine how to create a means to reduce the vibration transmitted to products while still generating adequate power," Batt said. "Triboelectric devices have received little study in published research, making for an ideal opportunity for impactful work."
Researchers have spent the last decades designing mechanisms that offer innovative, flexible and cost-effective means to replace or augment batteries and power devices by converting mechanical motion into electricity, Gibert said.
"This (study) has far-reaching implications in powering devices in the hyper-connected world known as the 'internet of things,'" Gibert said. "Here you will have devices that communicate with each other autonomously and will be able to sense both their environment as well as detect if they are operating properly."
The study also focuses on creating economical packaging designs that can protect instruments from potential hazards.
"Sensors and devices used in smart packaging need to be self-sustaining as it will be difficult to change the power source during transportation," Gibert said. "Triboelectricity offers a way to directly charge or power these devices."
Gibert became interested in the research while studying at Clemson. He earned all of his degrees from Clemson: a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2002, a master's degree in mechanical engineering in 2004 and a doctorate in mechanical engineering in 2009.
"My Clemson education is invaluable to my duties as a teacher and researcher," he said. "My classes were rigorous in both undergraduate and graduate school. In addition, the engineering program, and Clemson in general, always stressed personal integrity and honesty when doing your work. I learned from my teachers and advisers how to tackle a problem, to think critically and to check my work."
This grant is the largest National Science Foundation grant awarded to a packaging science faculty member, said Jeffery Rhodehamel, department chair.
Source and top image: Clemson University