We're already wearing electronic devices, and soon we could be wearing clothing that powers those devices. Thermoelectric and piezoelectric solutions are in the works, and now a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a fabric that gathers energy from both the sun and movement simultaneously, which could be used to create power-generating clothing or other textile products.
The fabric is able to generate power through movement thanks to the triboelectric effect, which sees an electrical charge created from the friction of two materials rubbing against each other. Fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators, along with wire-shaped solar cells made of polymer fibers, were woven in with strands of wool to create the material.
"This hybrid power textile presents a novel solution to charging devices in the field from something as simple as the wind blowing on a sunny day," said Zhong Lin Wang, one of the study's authors.
To test their device, the team flew a small flag of the material from a car window with promising results even on a cloudy day. Testing out a smaller piece measuring 4 x 5 cm (1.6 x 2 in) under sunlight and movement, the material charged a commercial 2 millifarad capacitor to 2 volts in one minute. Like other wearable power sources, that isn't a whole lot of juice, but it could be enough to run some small electronic devices.
In addition to its ability to harvest power from two sources at once, the material is flexible, breathable and lightweight, meaning it could be incorporated into clothing, tents, curtains, flags and other textile products. Being relatively simple and inexpensive to create helps its case, as well.
"The backbone of the textile is made of commonly-used polymer materials that are inexpensive to make and environmentally friendly," says Wang. "The electrodes are also made through a low cost process, which makes it possible to use large-scale manufacturing."
The next steps for the researchers are to examine how they can improve the fabric's durability and ensure that its electronic parts are protected from the elements and moisture.
The research was published in the journal, Nature Energy.
Source: Georgia Institute of Technology