Soon, our clothing could harvest enough energy from the sun and from motion to power our gadgets. A team of researchers headed by Zhong Lin Wang, a professor at Georgia Tech, has managed to weave a new type of fabric that is created out of photoanodes, i.e. solar cells made from lightweight polymer fibers, and triboelectric nanogenerators, which can generate small amounts of electricity from motion. In other words this so-called “micro-cable power textile” is a fabric which has the ability to produce electricity.
This fabric was woven together with wool strands and has a thickness of only 320 micrometers. It is also highly flexible, breathable, lightweight, and can be adapted to a variety of uses. Needless to say, a fabric such as this would revolutionize charging devices in the field.
To test the performance, they took a piece of this new fabric (about the size of a standard sheet of paper) and attached it to a rod like a flag. They then attached this to a car that was driven with the windows down, and their findings were impressive even when tested on a cloudy day. According to the team, the output of a 1.6 by 2 inch (4 cm by 5 cm) piece of the this new fabric textile can charge a 2 microfarad capacitor to 2 V in one minute just from sunlight and motion.
Furthermore, this textile is made from common polymer materials, which are cheap and environmentally friendly to produce. The process used to make the electrodes is also a low cost one, which means that large-scale manufacturing would not be much of a problem.
The results of their tests are promising, but the team is currently still working on making the fabric more durable. They are also still optimizing it for industrial purposes; such as finding ways of shielding the electrical components of the fabric from moisture.