Smarty pants – smart textiles will generate electricity

Soon personal devices such as phones could be charged through your clothing.

Smart textiles are the new frontier for energy generation, with fabric the size of a glove being developed to power personal devices.

Using energy from sunlight and body movements, these smart textiles can be produced on a standard industrial weaving machine.

The fabric is based on low-cost, lightweight polymer fibres coat with metals and semiconductors. These are woven together along with wool.

Associate professor of chemical engineering at Chongqing University in China, and one of the inventors, Xing Fan said the fabric is highly breathable and adaptive to human curves and biomechanical movement.

“This enables the power textile to be easily integrated with other functional fibres or electronic devices to form a flexible, self –powered system.

Fan and his team use a technique similar to semiconductor building, applying multiple layers with various materials to create cable-like solar cells that generate electricity from sunlight and also so-called triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG).

According to Fan, TENGs rely on being rubbed against another type of material to generate energy. The materials share electrons when they come in contact with each other, but when they’re separated, the one receiving electrons will hold a charge.

Different patterns and configurations can tune the power output. Researchers have customised the fabric for specific applications by aligning the TENGs with the direction of body movement so they can capture as much energy as possible.

No long-term durability testing has been carried out as yet, but after 500 cycles of bending there was no drop in performance. However TENG did drop to 73.5 per cent of its original performance when humidity went from 10 per cent to 90 per cent.