In Brief
  • With the advent of triboelectric generators in cloth, soon we will be able to power our devices with our clothing.
  • The integration of solar and motion generated energy with textiles will allow for a vast array of practical applications in consumer electronics as well as medicine.

Power Suits

Conventional notions on the technology of fabrics typically center on better manufacturing of clothes, or integrating images or displays into clothing.

But what if your clothes could actually power your devices? That’s what an international team of researchers set out to do, creating cloth that could power devices by two distinct means.

The scientists from Georgia Tech and Chongqing University were able to create textiles that generate power from both sunlight and movement, interweaving plastic fiber solar cells and fiber-based generators that create electricity when rubbed against each other.

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Photo: Xing Fan/Chongqing Universit

They were able to make the solar component by making light-sensitive zinc oxide nanowires on manganese and copper-coated plastic wires. Additionally, they took advantage of something called the triboelectric effect for motion harvesting. Their textile uses thin flat strips of copper coated with a Teflon-like polymer act as triboelectric generators.

“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,” said Zhong Lin Wang, one of the authors of the study, in a statement.

Powered Clothing

This energy generating cloth is also able to harvest energy from motion and pressure. It is a silvery textile coated with nanorods and a silicon-based organic material. Pressure generated from pressing down on four cloth pieces were able to power light-emitting diodes, a liquid crystal display and a vehicle’s keyless entry remote. There are some very interesting possibilities of such technology. Not only could it be used to power consumer electronics, but the medical field could also benefit from such a portable, integrated energy source.

On the other hand, other efforts have been on integrating solar technology with fabrics. Since the technology’s original study in 2001, advancements have been made with decreasing weight, breathability, and types of fabrics the integrated technology can accommodate.