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Fundamental theories and basic principles of triboelectric effect: A review


Long-term observation of the triboelectric effect has not only proved the feasibility of many novel and useful tribo-devices (e.g., triboelectric nanogenerators), but also constantly motivated the exploration of its mysterious nature. In the pursuit of a comprehensive understanding of how the triboelectric process works, a more accurate description of the triboelectric effect and its related parameters and factors is urgently required. This review critically goes through the fundamental theories and basic principles governing the triboelectric process. By investigating the difference between each charging media, the electron, ion, and material transfer is discussed and the theoretical deduction in the past decades is provided. With the information from the triboelectric series, interesting phenomena including cyclic triboelectric sequence and asymmetric triboelectrification are precisely analyzed. Then, the interaction between the tribo-system and its operational environment is analyzed, and a fundamental description of its effects on the triboelectric process and results is summarized. In brief, this review is expected to provide a strong understanding of the triboelectric effect in a more rigorous mathematical and physical sense.


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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 51575340), State Key Laboratory of Solid Lubrication (No. LSL-1604) and the Shanghai Academy of Space Technology-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Research Center of Advanced Aerospace Technology (USCAST2016-13). The authors gratefully acknowledge Tianlu Wang (PhD, ETH Zurich), Peng Zhang (PhD, UCLA), and Ning Yu (PhD, UCLA) for their useful comments and proofreading.

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Correspondence to Zhinan Zhang.

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Shuaihang PAN. He received his B.S. degree in Mech. Eng. and B.A. degree in German in 2016 from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China. He is now working as a graduate researcher at University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) in pursuit of a Ph.D. degree. His research focuses on triboelectric effect, novel nanocomposites, and electrical/thermal transport phenomena.

Zhinan ZHANG. He received his Ph.D. degree in 2011 from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China. After that he was a post doctor in Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He is now working as an associate professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University. His research interests include computational design and analysis of tribosystems, and theory and methods of design engineering and innovation.

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Pan, S., Zhang, Z. Fundamental theories and basic principles of triboelectric effect: A review. Friction 7, 2–17 (2019).

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  • triboelectric effect
  • triboelectrification
  • triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs)
  • interface