Metal-Free Multilayer Hybrid PENG Based on Soft Electrospun/-Sprayed Membranes with Cardanol Additive for Harvesting Energy from Surgical Face Masks

ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2021 May 5;13(17):20606-20621. doi: 10.1021/acsami.1c01740. Epub 2021 Apr 25.


Disposable surgical face masks are usually used by medical/nurse staff but the current Covid-19 pandemic has caused their massive use by many people. Being worn closely attached to the people's face, they are continuously subjected to routine movements, i.e., facial expressions, breathing, and talking. These motional forces represent an unusual source of wasted mechanical energy that can be rather harvested by electromechanical transducers and exploited to power mask-integrated sensors. Typically, piezoelectric and triboelectric nanogenerators are exploited to this aim; however, most of the current devices are too thick or wide, not really conformable, and affected by humidity, which make them hardly embeddable in a mask, in contact with skin. Different from recent attempts to fabricate smart energy-harvesting cloth masks, in this work, a wearable energy harvester is rather enclosed in the mask and can be reused and not disposed. The device is a metal-free hybrid piezoelectric nanogenerator (hPENG) based on soft biocompatible materials. In particular, poly(vinylidene fluoride) (PVDF) membranes in the pure form and with a biobased plasticizer (cardanol oil, CA) are electrospun onto a laser-ablated polyimide flexible substrate attached on a skin-conformable elastomeric blend of poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) and Ecoflex. The multilayer structure of the device harnesses the piezoelectricity of the PVDF nanofibers and the friction triboelectric effects. The ultrasensitive mechanoelectrical transduction properties of the composite device are determined by the strong electrostatic behavior of the membranes and the plasticization effect of cardanol. In addition, encapsulation based on PVDF, PDMS, CA, and parylene C is used, allowing the hPENG to exhibit optimal reliability and resistance against the wet and warm atmosphere around the face mask. The proposed device reveals potential applications for the future development of smart masks with coupled energy-harvesting devices, allowing to use them not only for anti-infective protection but also to supply sensors or active antibacterial/viral devices.

Keywords: Covid-19; Ecoflex; PDMS; PVDF; biocompatibility; cardanol; electrospinning; electrospraying; hybrid PENG; piezoelectric; surgical face masks; triboelectric.

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques / instrumentation*
  • Conservation of Energy Resources / methods
  • Electrochemistry / instrumentation*
  • Humans
  • Masks*