Research into fabrics that can generate electricity from physical movement has been ongoing for a number of years. A new fabric that can harvest energy from both motion and sunshine at the same time has been developed by researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology.
One textile containing two types of electricity generation paves the way to powering devices such as global positioning systems or smart phones from garments that can provide their own energy.
Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering, notes that something as simple as the wind blowing on a sunny day could be used for charging devices in the field using this novel hybrid power textile solution.
Wang’s team used a commercial textile machine to manufacture the fabric. Solar cells constructed from fiber-based triboelectric nano generators are weaved together with lightweight polymer fibers.
The fabric is breathable, lightweight, highly flexible and can be adapted to a wide range of uses. As the new fabric is only is 320 micrometers thick, it can be woven together with strands of wool and be used in wearable garments, tents or even curtains.
A small amount of electrical power is generate from mechanical motion such as rotation, sliding or vibration by triboelectric nano generators using a combination of electrostatic induction and the triboelectric effect.
Wang’s team used photo anodes created in a wire shaped fashion for the sunlight-harvesting part of the fabric. This could be woven together with other types of fiber. The triboelectric nano generators are fiber-based and capture the energy generated when certain materials become electrically charged when coming into moving contact with a different material.
The electrodes are made with a low cost process, while the mainstay of the textile is made from commonly used polymer materials that are environmentally friendly and inexpensive. This makes it possible to use large-scale manufacturing processes when producing the fabric.
Wang’s team measured the output by a 4 by 5 centimeter piece of fabric after a minute exposure to sunlight and movement. They managed to charge a 2 mF commercial capacitor to 2 volts during that time. In another experiment, they took fabric measuring the size of a sheet of office paper and attached it to rod like a small flag. Letting the flag blow in the wind while holding it out the window of a moving car, significant power was generated, even on a cloudy day. Wang believes this proves the fabric has a decent capability of working even in a harsh environment.
Initial tests show the fabric can endure repeated and rigorous use, but its long-term durability still has to be determined. The fabric now has to be optimized for industrial use. This will include protecting the electrical components from rain and moisture by developing proper encapsulation.
Full research has been published in the journal Nature Energy.