A new fabric with both solar and kinetic energy power generation capabilities may soon give your watch, cell phone, or laptop the juice it needs to operate.
Pioneering piezoelectric sidewalks, and solar powered roads are awesome, but until now researchers haven’t figured out how to power our mobile devices with electricity that wasn’t gained from the burning of fossil fuels.
The fabric could further enhance products like solar backpacks, which tend to be bulky since the solar panels have to be added post creation of the bag itself. Or imagine a phone case that also charges your cell phone while it swings in your purse or your pockets, just as easily as it generates energy when exposed to the sun.
With help from the textiles industry and energy researchers, a cloth woven with photoanodes and triboelectric nanogenerators will be able to better integrate power into small mobile devices we use every day.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology, led by Zhong Lin Wan, have created a new fabric that they are calling a “micro-cable power textile.”
As Wan explains,
“[The technology] integrates photoanodes (solar cells made from lightweight polymer fibers) and triboelectric nanogenerators (which are able to generate small amounts of electricity from motion), in essence creating a fabric capable of producing electricity. The new textile, which was woven together with wool strands, is 320 micrometers thick and is said to be “highly flexible, breathable, light weight and adaptable to a range of uses.”
In essence, both a gentle wind and a sunny day could be powering your next phone conversation, iPod jam session, your thesis composition on a tablet, your smart-watch on a jog, or Kindle read, no matter where you are. No electric car, billion-dollar sidewalk, or tangled electrical cords needed.
The Georgia Tech researchers used a thin sheet of the fabric mounted to a rod that was then allowed to blow in the wind from a car’s windows on a sunny day. “Significant power” was generated, on both sunny and cloudy days.
The output of a 4 cm x 5 cm piece of the power textile was able to charge a 2-microfarad capacitor to 2 volts in one minute from motion and sunlight, creating some good juice in even less than ideal weather. In full sunlight, while speeding down a desert road, who knows how much energy could actually be generated.
The fabric is made from inexpensive and environmentally responsible materials, and could be optimized for industrial use, according to Wan.
You can learn more about this miracle fabric in the journal Nature Energy under the title, “Micro-cable structured textile for simultaneously harvesting solar and mechanical energy.”
Mobile fossil-free energy creation is about to be at our fingertips.