Xabier García-Casas, Francisco J. Aparicio, Jorge Budagosky, Ali Ghaffarinejad, Noel Orozco-Corrales, Kostya (Ken) Ostrikov, Juan R. Sánchez-Valencia, Ángel Barranco, Ana Borrás

Nano Energy Volume 114, September 2023, 108686

DOI: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2023.108686

Nanogenerators and self-powered nanosensors have shown the potential to power low-consumption electronics and human-machine interfaces, but their practical implementation requires reliable, environmentally friendly and scalable processes for manufacturing and processing. Furthermore, the emerging flexible and wearable electronics technology demands direct fabrication onto innovative substrates such as paper and plastics typically incompatible with high process temperatures. This article presents a plasma synthesis approach for the fabrication of piezoelectric nanogenerators (PENGs) and self-powered sensors on paper substrates. Polycrystalline ZnO nanocolumnar thin films are deposited by plasma-enhanced chemical vapour deposition on common paper supports using a microwave electron cyclotron resonance reactor working at room temperature yielding high growth rates and low structural and interfacial stresses. Applying Kinetic Monte Carlo simulation, we elucidate the basic shadowing mechanism behind the characteristic microstructure and porosity of the ZnO thin films, relating them to an enhanced piezoelectric response to periodic and random inputs. The piezoelectric devices are assembled by embedding the ZnO films in polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) and using Au thin layers as electrodes in two different configurations, namely laterally and vertically contacted devices. We present the response of the laterally connected devices as a force sensor for low-frequency events with different answers to the applied force depending on the impedance circuit, i.e. load values range, a behaviour that is theoretically analyzed. The characterization of the vertical devices in cantilever-like mode reaches instantaneous power densities of 80 nW/cm2 with a mean power output of 20 nW/cm2. Besides, we analyze their actual-scenario performance by activation with a fan and handwriting. Overall, this work demonstrates the advantages of implementing plasma deposition for piezoelectric films to develop robust, flexible, stretchable, and enhanced-performance nanogenerators and self-powered piezoelectric sensors compatible with inexpensive and recyclable supports.