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Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a fabric that can simultaneously harvest energy from both sunshine and motion.
According to researchers, 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 smart phones or global positioning systems.
“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,” commented Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering.
Flexible, breathable and light weight
To make the fabric, Wang’s team used a commercial textile machine to weave together solar cells constructed from lightweight polymer fibres with fibre-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 micrometres thick woven together with strands of wool, could be integrated into tents, curtains or wearable garments. “The fabric is highly flexible, breathable, light weight and adaptable to a range of uses,” Wang said.
Use of polymer materials
Fibre-based triboelectric nanogenerators are said to 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 fibres.
“The backbone of the textile is made of commonly-used polymer materials that are inexpensive to make and environmentally friendly,” Wang said. “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 colourful 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-centimetre 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 said.
While early tests indicate the fabric can withstand repeated and rigorous use, researches 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. (Innovation in Textiles)
Summary and Possible Uses
The article from Innovation in Textiles addresses the development of a new fabric by the researchers of Georgia Institute of Technology. According to the creators, the new production technology allows the material to use sunlight and motion as energy sources, gathering solar and wind energy to charge or power certain devices, such as smartphones or GPS systems. The production of the fabric is a relatively simple process that includes the weaving of specialized solar fibers containing triboelectric nanogenerators. Thus, the material has a significant potential for gathering energy: “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” (Innovation in Textiles sec. 2).
The researchers highlight the flexibility of the fabric, arguing that it can be used in a wide variety of settings, for instance, in home textiles, such as curtains, or in casual clothing. One of the distinct advantages of the material is that it is beneficial for the environment, not only because of its potential to decrease the amount of energy used worldwide but also due to the environmentally friendly production process (Innovation in Textiles sec. 3). Other advantages include the possibility of large-scale manufacturing arising out of low production costs, the durability of the fabric, and, potentially, its water-repellent qualities (Innovation in Textiles sec. 4). Finally, the researchers stress that there is still a need for more tests to be conducted and for more improvements to be made. Nevertheless, the technology described looks promising and has many uses across various fields of design.
For instance, despite the fact that the creators focus more on the high-tech applications of the fabric, such as charging smartphones on the go, I feel like there would be many more uses for it in the fields where the functionality of the material is crucial, such as the armed forces. The fabric could be used to supply the soldiers with functional clothing in the field, which would eliminate the need to carry many tools needed to power devices used for communication. The light weight of the fabric would ensure its breathability in the hot regions, whereas the waterproof feature would protect from harsh weather conditions. The latter characteristic would also be useful in military camps, where there is a need to protect the soldiers’ tents from moisture. Large surfaces of the fabric used in tents could provide enough energy to power most of the equipment used in the camps, which would decrease the amount of machinery to be transported between camps and thus improve the efficiency of the divisions. Furthermore, the possibility of large-scale manufacturing would guarantee low costs of production for the government, making the use of fabric even more efficient.
Overall, the use of energy-generating nanofibers in textiles and design can have many uses and applications, ranging from interior design to armed forces supply. In each field, the benefits of this technology will be different. However, the main advantage is evident irrespective of the specific application: the use of such fabrics can have a positive influence on the environment as it represents an accessible, flexible, and efficient opportunity to save energy without major expenditures, which could be used worldwide, thus helping to save energy and resources on a global scale.
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“Researchers Develop New Fabric That Can Use Sun and Wind to Power Devices.” Innovation in Textiles. 2016, Web.