Power Textile Generates Electricity from Wind and Sun

13 September 2016

A team of engineers from Georgia Tech University has taken the world of smart fabrics to a whole new level. The engineers have developed a fabric that can harvest energy from both the sun and motion at the same time.

By combining these two types of electricity generation, their work paves the way for clothing that could provide its own source of energy to power smartphones or GPS devices.

A piece of fabric was woven with special strands of material that harvest electricity from the sun and motion. (Image Credit: Georgia Tech) A piece of fabric was woven with special strands of material that harvest electricity from the sun and motion. (Image Credit: Georgia Tech)

"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," said Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering.

How They Did It

In order to create the fabric, Wang and the team used a commercial textile machine to weave together solar cells constructed from lightweight polymer fibers with fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators.

Triboelectric nanogenerators employ both the triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction to generate small amounts of electrical power from mechanical motion, such as rotating, sliding or vibrating.

The Georgia Tech team thinks the new fabric, which measures in at just 320 micrometers thick when woven together with strands of wool, could be incorporated into tents, curtains or wearable garments.

"The fabric is highly flexible, breathable, lightweight and adaptable to a range of uses," said Wang.

Fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators capture the energy created when certain materials become electrically charged once they come in contact with a different material. To compose the part of the fabric that is sensitive to sunlight, the 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," said Wang. "The electrodes are also made through a low-cost process, which makes it possible to use large-scale manufacturing."

In one experiment, Wang's team used a fabric only about the size of a sheet of ordinary office paper and attached it to a rod so that it looked like a small flag. When the researchers rolled down their car windows and let the little flag fly outside the window, they were able to generate significant power— even on a cloudy day. They measured the output by a 4 x 5 cm piece, which charged up a 2 mF commercial capacitor to 2 volts in one minute under sunlight and movement.

According to Wang this means the fabric can even work in harsh environments.

Researchers will now look into long-term durability. Next steps include optimizing the fabric for industrial uses, including developing proper encapsulation to protect the electrical components from rain and moisture.

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