Flexible cloth harnesses human motion to generate electricity

In the future, simply running while wearing your favorite hoodie could be sufficient to charge gadgets carried within it (Photo: Shutterstock)

We've already heard about how thermoelectric or piezoelectric clothing could be used to generate electricity for our mobile devices. Now, an international team of scientists has successfully used special fabric to serve as an electricity-generating triboelectric nanogenerator. The research could pave the way for clothing that charges devices simply by moving.

The flexible fabric was coated in silver, along with a silicon-based organic material (polydimethylsiloxane) and zinc oxide nanorod arrays. Four layers of the material were stacked one on top of another, and then pressure was applied from the top.

As the pieces of fabric moved against one another, they generated and stored energy. This is the triboelectric effect, in which certain materials become electrically-charged when they're rubbed against one another – it's what's responsible for the static charge that occurs when you're combing your hair.

That energy was immediately released as an electrical current, which was used to power LEDs, a liquid crystal display and a car's keyless entry fob. The fabric kept putting out the same voltage for over 12,000 cycles.

Along with its use for device-charging clothing, the technology could also find use in applications such as biomedical devices and touch-sensitive robotic skin.

The research was conducted by scientists from Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, and the University of Wollongong in Australia. It was recently described in a paper published in the journal ACS Nano.

Researchers at Georgia Tech, incidentally, have also been working on a triboelectric touchscreen.

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