Fabric harvests energy from sun and motion

A new fabric harvests energy from both sunshine and motion at the same time.

Fabrics that can generate electricity from physical movement have been in the works for a few years, and this is the next step.

Combining two types of electricity generation into one textile paves the way for developing garments that could provide their own source of energy to power devices such as smartphones or GPS.

“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,” says Zhong Lin Wang, professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Materials Science and Engineering.

energy-generating fabric bracelet
A bracelet made from fabric woven with special energy-harvesting strands that collect electricity from the sun and motion. (Credit: Georgia Tech)

To make the fabric, Wang’s team used a commercial textile machine to weave together solar cells constructed from lightweight polymer fibers with fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators.

Triboelectric nanogenerators use a combination of the triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction to generate small amount of electrical power from mechanical motion such as rotation, sliding or vibration.

Wang envisions that the new fabric, which is 320 micrometers thick woven together with strands of wool, could be integrated into tents, curtains, or wearable garments.

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“The fabric is highly flexible, breathable, lightweight, and adaptable to a range of uses,” Wang says.

Fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators capture the energy created when certain materials become electrically charged after they come into moving contact with a different material. For the sunlight-harvesting part of the fabric, Wang’s team used photoanodes made in a wire-shaped fashion that could be woven together with other fibers.

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

In one of their experiments, Wang’s team used a fabric only about the size of a sheet of office paper and attached it to rod like a small colorful flag. Rolling down the windows in a car and letting the flag blow in the wind, the researchers were able to generate significant power from a moving car on a cloudy day. The researchers also measured the output by a 4-by-5-centimeter piece, which charged up a 2 mF commercial capacitor to 2 volts in one minute under sunlight and movement.

“That indicates it has a decent capability of working even in a harsh environment,” Wang says.

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While early tests indicate the fabric can withstand repeated and rigorous use, researchers will be looking into its long-term durability. Next steps also include further optimizing the fabric for industrial uses, including developing proper encapsulation to protect the electrical components from rain and moisture.

The work appears in the journal Nature Energy.

Funding came from the Hightower Chair foundation, KAUST and the “thousands talents” program for pioneer researcher and his innovation team, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities. Any conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring organizations.

Source: Georgia Tech

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Source: Futurity