As the world economy grows and industrialization of the developing countries increases, the demand for energy continues to rise. Triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) have been touted as having great potential for low-carbon, non-fossil fuel energy generation. Mechanical energies from, amongst others, body motion, vibration, wind and waves are captured and converted by TENGs to harvest electricity, thereby minimizing global fossil fuel consumption. However, only by ascertaining performance efficiency along with low material and manufacturing costs as well as a favorable environmental profile in comparison with other energy harvesting technologies, can the true potential of TENGs be established. This paper presents a detailed techno-economic lifecycle assessment of two representative examples of TENG modules, one with a high performance efficiency (Module A) and the other with a lower efficiency (Module B) both fabricated using low-cost materials. The results are discussed across a number of sustainability metrics in the context of other energy harvesting technologies, notably photovoltaics. Module A possesses a better environmental profile, lower cost of production, lower CO2 emissions and shorter energy payback period (EPBP) compared to Module B. However, the environmental profile of Module B is slightly degraded due to the higher content of acrylic in its architecture and higher electrical energy consumption during fabrication. The end of life scenario of acrylic is environmentally viable given its recyclability and reuse potential and it does not generate toxic gases that are harmful to humans and the environment during combustion processes due to its stability during exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Despite the adoption of a less optimum laboratory manufacturing route, TENG modules generally have a better environmental profile than commercialized Si based and organic solar cells, but Module B has a slightly higher energy payback period than PV technology based on perovskite-structured methyl ammonium lead iodide. Overall, we recommend that future research into TENGs should focus on improving system performance, material optimization and more importantly improving their lifespan to realize their full potential.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: This research was supported by KAUST and the Hightower Chair foundation. The support provided for completing this research is gratefully acknowledged. In addition, a helpful discussion with Professor Heather MacLean is gratefully acknowledged.
This publication acknowledges KAUST support, but has no KAUST affiliated authors.