Kristopher Sturgis

September 15, 2016

3 Min Read
Smart Fabric Generates Energy From Sunshine and Motion

The new garment has solar cells woven into the material to harvest energy from the sun and body motion. The resulting electricity could power wearable mobile health technologies.

Kristopher Sturgis

Georgia Tech Energy Harvesting FabricResearchers from Georgia Tech's school of materials science and engineering have developed a new hybrid fabric material that can generate electricity while remaining flexible and thin--making the fabric perfect for wearable technologies. Zhong Lin Wang, professor at Georgia Tech and one of the lead authors on the work, describes the material as a power source for wearable devices.

"The hybrid power textile is ultra-thin and flexible," Wang said. "Holding a single layered interlaced structure, the hybrid power textile shows an ultra-thinness with superior flexibility, and could be fabricated into various cloths. It is highly deformable, breathable, and adaptive to human surface curves and biomechanical movement."

The material itself is assembled on lightweight, flexible polymer fibers that are environmentally friendly. The fabric was created using a commercial textile machine that weaves together solar cells with fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators. These nanogenerators use a combination of the triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction to generate small amounts of electrical power harvested from the user's motion.

"The triboelectric generator makes use of the triboelectric effect to create surprising amounts of electric power by rubbing or touching two different materials together," Wang said. "When the materials are in contact, electrons flow from one material to the other. By continuously repeating the process, an alternating current can be produced."

With the wearables market growing exponentially, the demand for flexible, stretchy power sources continues to grow with it. Earlier this year researchers from the University of Illinois developed a new flexible power system that was designed to bend and stretch with virtually any wearable fabric. Power systems like these having been springing up more and more as emerging wearable technologies begin to veer away from the rigid components that power traditional electronics.

With this in mind, Wang and his colleagues set out to create a fabric material that can not only be worn comfortably and discreetly, but can also harness enough energy to power a bevy of different electronic devices.

"This hybrid power textile presents a novel solution in a fabric form, delivering sufficient power for practical applications," Wang says. "Such as directly charging a commercial cell phone in a wearable manner. This all-solid hybrid power textile has a size of 4 cm by 5 cm and is capable of sustainably and stably delivering an average output power of 0.5 mW in a wide range of loading resistances--and this output power can be dramatically enhanced with the fabric area scaled up."

The group's latest tests have indicated that the fabric can withstand rigorous use, as they continue to explore the material's long term durability. Wang says the group also plans to further enhance the material for industrial uses, and eventually encapsulate the fabric to help protect the electrical components from rain and moisture--all in an effort to prepare the fabric to power any virtually any wearable device. 

Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed.

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[Image courtesy of Georgia Tech]

About the Author(s)

Kristopher Sturgis

Kristopher Sturgis is a freelance contributor to MD+DI.

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