A new breakthrough in battery power could mean that all consumers need to do to charge their mobile devices on the move is to keep moving.

Or just use them normally, as the technology works by generating power every time it is touched or rubbed. First showcased by Zhong Lin Wang, Ph.D., and his team from the Georgia Institute of Technology at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Dallas this month, the technology has the potential to turn anyone or anything that moves into a potential power source.

Essentially a way of harnessing static electricity, a charge that's created when two surfaces rub together, Wang and his team have created something they call a triboelectric nanogenerator or TENG for short. It comprises two sheets of material and when they touch, one donates electrons and the other receives them. When they separate again a voltage is created. To begin with the voltage was tiny, but by using different types of materials and different techniques that increase the surface area of the materials, the TENG can now generate 300 watts per square meter.

"The amount of charge transferred depends on surface properties," Wang explained. "Making patterns of nanomaterials on the polymer films' surfaces increases the contact area between the sheets and can make a 1,000-fold difference in the power generated."

The team has incorporated TENGs into everything from shoe insoles to rucksacks, floor mats and jackets to capture the energy created every day from everyday movement, such as walking down the street, and Wang believes that the technology could come to market in as little as five years. The surfaces used in the TENG are so fine that conceivably they could even be incorporated into a smartphone's touch screen to capture finger and hand swipes as energy.

But as well as mobile gadgets, Wang hopes to use the technology on a much larger scale. TENGs built into buoys and other marine equipment could capture and harness wave power, while tiny TENG windmills could very discreetly convert energy from the wind.