Fabric that Generates Electricity from Sunshine and Motion

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Fabric that generates electricity. Sounds like something from The Jetsons, right? Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have brought us a step closer to the future. They’re developing a fabric that can harvest energy from both sunshine and motion.


As reported recently in the journal, Nature Energy, a team of researchers led by Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering, has combined two types of electricity generation into one textile.  This means that garments could be able to provide their own source of energy to power devices such as smartphones or global positioning systems.

According to the team’s findings, solar cells fabricated from lightweight polymer fibres into micro cables are then woven via a shuttle-flying process. With the help of fibre-based triboelectric nanogenerators, they create a smart fabric. The hybrid power textile charged a capacitor during “mechanical excitation.”  We’d call that human motion or wind blowing. The textile/ power source then has the potential to continuously power an electronic watch, directly charge a cell phone, or drive water splitting reactions.

“The fabric is highly flexible, breathable, lightweight, and adaptable to a range of uses,” Wang said. “The backbone of the textile is made of commonly-used polymer materials that are inexpensive to make and environmentally friendly. The electrodes are also made through a low cost process, which makes it possible to use large-scale manufacturing.”

The Logistics of Micro-Cable Structured Textile Technology

Here’s how it worked.  Using a magazine-sized piece of fabric attached to a pole, the team stuck the device out a car window.  It generated, according to Georgia Tech, “significant power.” And it sounds like it was a fun experiment!

The hybrid power fabric can be utilized in various types of cloths, tents, and curtains as it is breathable, lightweight, flexible, and adaptable. Researchers have found that the fabric can withstand rigorous use.  Still, they plan on carrying out further tests to find out about its durability.  Markham at Tree Hugger reports that the team is also working on reconfiguring for industrial purposes and protecting the electrical components within it from moisture.

Their research was delivered in a white paper called “Micro-cable structured textile for simultaneously harvesting solar and mechanical energy.”

Photo credit: Josh Brown at Georgia Tech News Center



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