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Energy harvesting fabrics

Posted on December 07, 2009 by Tessa Henderson
Scientists are researching the development of energy-scavenging fabrics, with in-built nanotechnology which uses the kinetic energy from the wearer's movements and converts it into electricity for powering electronics. These fabrics would be an obvious aid to hikers and soldiers, and could power mobile phones, MP3 players, night lights and more. Scientists are also investigating how energy-scavenging fabrics could convert low-frequency vibrations into electricity, using nanowires entwined with the fabric's fibres so as not to alter the look of the clothing.
Georgia Tech researchers led by materials-science professor Zhong Lin Wang, have made a flexible fiber coated with zinc oxide nanowires that can convert mechanical energy into electricity. The researchers say the fibers should be able to harvest any kind of vibration or motion for electric current. Gold-plated zinc oxide nanowires, each about 3.5 micrometers tall, are grown on a flexible polymer fiber and these nanowires brush against untreated nanowires, which flex and generate current. Yarn spun from the fibers could lead to fabrics that convert body movements into electric current.
The development could lead to shirts and shoes that power iPods and medical implants, curtains that generate power when they flap in the wind, and tents that power portable electronics devices. According to Wang, the fabric is cheap to produce and is efficient.
Cetemmsa is another company overseeing research projects in the use of sensors in sportswear and accessories, some of which it is aiming to deliver to professional athletes in the New Year. The company hopes to develop a range of electronics that can be integrated into clothing which could appeal to athletes, including heart rate monitors, cooling technology and low-power lighting solutions. The company is also working on integrated power sources for added electronic functionality such as organic photovoltaics, as part of the EU-funded Dephotex project. Dephotex is a European collaborative research project of 4,2 million €, co-funded by the European Commission and will be carrying out research on Photovoltaic Textiles based on novel Fibres for 3 years from November 2008 to October 2011.
The European Space Agency has agreed to fund work by Ohmatex to create a sock with integrated electronics and embedded sensors to monitor the muscle activity of astronauts, which will be used to protect against the muscle-wasting effects of time spent in zero gravity.
Research continues in all aspects of energy harvesting with relation to fabrics, including research by the Taiwan Textile Research Institute and the Taiwan Technical Textile Association who are working on a textile-based flexible super capacitor for commercial production.
Energy harvesting fabrics also have their place in the world of design. Dutch designer Stijn Ossevoort has created a dress dubbed "Flare" which has wind powered LEDs attached to the fabric. As the wearer walks, the dress lights up in different patterns.
According to Dan Williams, VP of product development at Konarka Technologies "Just as we have become accustomed to calling a person, regardless of their location, the same premise will hold true for power. In the future, we will rely less on where power is located, because power generation will become a feature in next-generation devices, accessories and clothing."
Top image of "Flare" dress, Source: Ecofriend
Tessa Henderson

Authored By: Tessa Henderson

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