On the Electron-Transfer Mechanism in the Contact-Electrification Effect

Cheng Xu, Yunlong Zi, Aurelia Chi Wang, Haiyang Zou, Yejing Dai, Xu He, Peihong Wang, Yi-cheng Wang, Peizhong Feng, Dawei Li, Zhong Lin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A long debate on the charge identity and the associated mechanisms occurring in contact-electrification (CE) (or triboelectrification) has persisted for many decades, while a conclusive model has not yet been reached for explaining this phenomenon known for more than 2600 years! Here, a new method is reported to quantitatively investigate real-time charge transfer in CE via triboelectric nanogenerator as a function of temperature, which reveals that electron transfer is the dominant process for CE between two inorganic solids. A study on the surface charge density evolution with time at various high temperatures is consistent with the electron thermionic emission theory for triboelectric pairs composed of Ti–SiO 2 and Ti–Al 2O 3. Moreover, it is found that a potential barrier exists at the surface that prevents the charges generated by CE from flowing back to the solid where they are escaping from the surface after the contacting. This pinpoints the main reason why the charges generated in CE are readily retained by the material as electrostatic charges for hours at room temperature. Furthermore, an electron-cloud–potential-well model is proposed based on the electron-emission-dominatedcharge-transfer mechanism, which can be generally applied to explain all types of CE in conventional materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1706790
JournalAdvanced Materials
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • charge identity
  • contact electrification
  • nanogenerators
  • thermionic emission
  • triboelectrification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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