Nanogenerator Tires To Extend Electric Car Range?

JUL 27 2015 BY TDILLARD 20

OK, with a tag like “triboelectric nanogenerator”, who doesn’t want to love this new idea?  But then: Physics.

Popular Science, of all sources that should maybe know better, touts this very-small-generator-inside-your-wheels as “… pulling latent electricity from the ground itself.”  Really, guys?


Researchers tested the TENGs by securing six strips of the material on the back wheels of a electric toy car, which also had six LED lights attached. The power generated by the toy car in motion lit all six LED lights, and at its peak, reached 1.79 milliwatts. However, the wattage increases with the weight and speed of the vehicle used, so researchers believe the output will grow with the size and weight of the tires used, according to the paper published in Nano Energy.

Nanogenerator tire at work

Nanogenerator tire at work

Why are we so skeptical?  Just remember, nothing is free, and energy has to come from somewhere, and for every action there’s an equal and opposite, right?  Your motor pushes your car.  Your tires go bouncy bouncy over the bumpy bumpies.  They absorb the impact of the bumps, making your ride more comfortable, which is absorbing energy (and pretty much turning it into heat – ever feel your tires after a good drive?).  Simply put, you try to recover that energy, you’re going to make your tires stiffer.  Riding on rocks is best left to Fred Flintstone.  Just an opinion.  Remember regen suspension?  Like that.

To keep this all in perspective, remember, they’re called “nano” generators for a reason.  They’re very small – and there are certainly viable applications in terms of powering pacemakers and other small things…  but EVs?  We remain skeptical.

If you want to read about how this “self-powered technology makes the periodic battery replacement or recharging no longer necessary”, go to  If you want to read Dr. Wang’s free e-book on nanogenerators, here it is.  Also, Georgia Tech’s 2010 video explains some of the practical applications:

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20 Comments on "Nanogenerator Tires To Extend Electric Car Range?"

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I don’t think they are crazy enough to believe that they are building a perpetual motion machine. I think they are just trying to recoup waste energy that would otherwise go to heating the tires.

All of the energy would come from the propulsion system of the vehicle itself. But if the energy is already being wasted by the flexing of the tires, and being converted into tire heat, why not collect it instead?

It all comes down to how much energy can be recouped, and what price and at what weight penalty.

“Your tires go bouncy bouncy over the bumpy bumpies. They absorb the impact of the bumps, making your ride more comfortable, which is absorbing energy (and pretty much turning it into heat – ever feel your tires after a good drive?).”

So what’s so crazy about turning that energy into electricity instead of just heat?

“To keep this all in perspective, remember, they’re called “nano” generators for a reason. They’re very small”

Not exactly. “nano” typically refers to technology which is enabled by our understanding of physics at the atomic (nano-meter) scale. Things get really weird at that tiny scale (don’t believe me? study quantum mechanics for a bit), but we are learning how to harness that different behavior to engineer novel solutions. THAT is what they call “nanotechnology”. Some examples of nanotechnology – LEDs and Flash memory.

I’m willing to give these guys a chance. Although I do conceed it sounds like a nice science fair project, it is at least plausible that it could scale. The other question is at what cost? Therein lies their biggest hurdle.

I think these guys’ ‘bouncy bouncy tires’ are going to be much harder to recover energy from, than say,

WATER COOLED SHOCK ABSORBERS thet could be the heat source for heat pump car heaters for bevs. At least you could have a use for 100% of the heat generated, improving the coefficient of perfomance of the heat pump.

I’m not actually suggesting they do this, just that my space heating shock absorber has a much higher benefit/cost ratio.

I think the biggest near term benefit this will have is in plenty of fodder for Doctorate Candidate Disertations.

There may be some practical benefit to all these piezo-electric transducers.

But charging cars ain’t gonna be one of ’em.

I have zero doubt that a scheme like this will produce at least some flow of electrons.

But will it produce enough to account for more than, say 1 minute of charging time per day for a typical EV? And even if it can, at what increment (plus or minus) in the TCO (total cost of ownership) of the vehicle?

New technology has to make it over one heck of a set of hurdles from “Hey! Look what we made work once in the lab before it melted down!” to “I can buy it at my local store or car dealer and it’s a good value proposition”.

I’m not saying this invention doesn’t work or won’t be a successful addition to future EVs; but until I see proof, I’ll reserve judgment.

Seems like pie in the sky in regards to producing significant power for an ev, but basic research is still important.

Generating enough energy to light up a few tiny LEDs? Sure.

But as the previous InsideEVs article on this tech noted, it would be optimistic to think this could recoup as much as even 1-2% of the energy used to move the car down the road.

As far as the claim that this works by “pulling latent electricity from the ground itself”… Shame on you, Popular Science! Shame! That reads like a claim from a perpetual motion scammer, and has no place in your publication. 🙁

This is from someone who can’t understand the difference between measuring SOC and battery capacity…


Anything converted from “wasted heat” is a good energy recovery.

The key question is how much it cost vs. how much energy it recovers…

ModernMarvelFan said:

“This is from someone who can’t understand the difference between measuring SOC and battery capacity…”

Reminds me of the quote:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” — Abraham Lincoln

@Pushmi-Pullyu So, you like to go there and I will play along. Since you were the jerk that fired the first shot and I will sink to your po-po level. The topic has been revisited many times and your only amatuer explaination so far is that “other EV makers are doing it” so it must be true that GM is doing it too. That is dumbest reasoning ever since you failed to answer all my questions on GM is doing it without owners detecting. First of all, in order to measure Battery capacity, there are 3 approaches. 1. Fully charge and then discharge the battery to measure capacity. (Can’t do that in the Volt). 2. Figure out battery profile and measure amount of current input vs. charging voltage and then “ESTIMATE” the amount of capacity remains (That is what most BEV makers are doing). If Volt does this, then any battery charging curves diverages from the module will cause inaccurate in capacity predication. So, the Volt computer will have to compensate by charging more or less depending on the error. But then Volt owners would be to tell from the trip computer tracking of kWh consumed. 3. Sheer time/cycle based… Read more »

ModernMarvelFan said:

“Since you were the jerk that fired the first shot…”

Dude, anyone can scroll up a bit and see that you’re insulting yourself. You can’t remove your previous posts here then pretend you didn’t make them.

“Since you were the jerk that fired the first shot…” Pushmi-Pullyu said: “Dude, anyone can scroll up a bit and see that you’re insulting yourself. You can’t remove your previous posts here then pretend you didn’t make them.” I guess you must have a short memory or completely clueless from the previous artical where you fired the first shot.. Were you the knucklehead who said this: “Contrary to what you apparently believe, ModernMarvelFan, your personal lack of understanding of a subject doesn’t limit the ability of others to discuss things intelligently” on this thread? I am still waiting for your so called “intelligent” explaination on how GM does it. So, which way does GM do it? The #1, #2 or #3 suggestion? How does GM do it accurately that owners can’t see the difference between the “estimate” and actual degradation? I have been waiting for your intelligent explaination and have found none beside your “fluffy claims” of others who doesn’t understand the topic. Since my original question was looking for a detailed scientific explaination instead of the “fluffy” stuff from you which was nothing more than “if other EV makers are doing something”, then it must be the way… Read more »

Hehe funny reading comments here.

LED’s are one of your most basic semiconductor. 1.7milliwatts cannot light an LED, much less SIX leds. Typical spec has a forward voltage of close to 2.0V and forward current for dim illumination is 2-5mA. Do the math.

The “invention” itself is a novel improvement on decades old piezo electricity (the reverse of what makes the beep in your Casio watch). The energy output is still terribly low and they have yet to beat the classic problem of scaling up the technology.

Did you know that every electronic device has a similar nanogenerator? They all have MLCC capacitors and those generate tiny current based on the same principle (although as a side effect). Hence high end audio hifi products (not to be confused with iPod) do not use ceramics in the signal path. Just a bit of trivia.

If those nano particles add $100 to the cost of each tire and the necessary wiring to the battery adds 50% cost to having your wheels swapped in a garage this novelty is dead in the water.

Somehting that would actually make sense are electricity generatin schock-absorbers. AFAIK there are several types in development.

Obviously the effect here is tiny… It doesn’t help the car regain air resistance losses. It won’t eliminate tire flex.
Adding 1 psi to your tire pressure would likely have a greater effect… Both in decreasing tire flex and increasing range a tiny bit.
I suggest that researching tires and suspension that can handle 1 psi more with the same comfort would be more useful, cheaper, etc.

Wireless speed control transmitted from road signs to throttle, limiting vehicles to a national 45 mph maximum would cost very little, and do more to reduce CO2 and energy use than all the electric cars, and goofy gadgets ever conceived. Yeah, I hate your freedom.

I still like the idea of strapping 10 small wind turbines to your car. Or the fishing pole with a magnet attached that you reach out in front of your car.

That would be a good idea for drivers in LA or Atlanta who were stuck in rush-hour traffic. Anytime the car was stopping or stopped, raise the windmills to catch the breeze, and then quickly retract them to minimize drag when you finally take off.

It sure would be fun to watch the car ahead.

Why don’t some of these PhD types invent some ‘Nano-Springs’ that are wound or charged when the “bouncy bouncy goes over the bumpidy bumps”? Then it could release the energy into the rotating motion of the tires and skip all the expensive, inefficient electrical conversions?