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Georgia Tech Researchers Develop Energy Harvesting Fabric

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a new project to help clothes generate electricity in the future.

Georgia Tech researchers created a new textile that gets energy from sunshine and motion. A pivotal innovation, the textile combines both types of electricity generation into a flexible, breathable and light weight fabric that’s 320 micrometers thick.

In the coming years, this textile could play a crucial role in the development of garments that provide their own energy source to power global positioning systems and smartphones.

“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,” Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering Regents professor Zhong Lin Wang said.

Developing the fabric involved a hybrid methodology of weaving and physics. First, Wang’s team used a commercial textile machine to weave together lightweight polymer fiber solar cells with fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators. Using a combination of the triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction, triboelectric nanogenerators generate small amounts of electrical power from rotations, sliding and vibrations.

These fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators capture the energy created when particular materials experience motion and come into contact with different materials. To simulate the sunlight-generating component of the fabric, Wang’s team used wire-shaped photoanodes and weaved them with other fibers.

“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.”

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In one of the textile’s experiments, Wang’s team created a mock situation which involved energy generation from a moving car. Using a fabric about the size of an office paper sheet, Wang’s team created a miniature flag. Wang’s team then rolled down the windows of the car and let the flag blow in the wind. Researchers found out that they were able to obtain a significant amount of power from a moving vehicle on a cloudy day. The fabric’s output charged up a 2 mF commercial capacitor to 2 volts in one minute with sunlight and motion in this environment.

Although early tests show that the fabric generates electricity in harsh environments repeatedly, researchers will continue to determine its long term durability. Researchers also hope to eventually use the fabric for industrial purposes, including encapsulation.