Specialists have developed fabric to generate energy from clothing

Could a jacket or jeans one day charge your cell phone and other electronic devices? That’s the goal of a study by an interdisciplinary team of scientists, including those from Heriot-Watt University’s Flexible Materials Research Institute. They are working on a project to harvest the kinetic energy generated in clothing using the latest nanotechnology.

Scientists from Scotland and Ireland are trying to create an autonomous mobile energy system based on friction. They will use state-of-the-art nanogenerators, which are designed to capture and reuse kinetic energy from clothing materials created by the wearer’s movements. If the project is successful, such tiny devices will be incorporated into everyday clothing at the manufacturing stage.

Scientists claim that their technology could become available to all mankind as early as 2027, and will function to the benefit of all electronic gadgets: smartphones, smart watches and tablets. Professor George Stilios of the Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design in Scotland is responsible for the “textile” component of the project. He is exploring ways to develop and incorporate this technology into clothing.

“The type and mechanics of fabric surface interactions are important so that we can generate enough energy through a combination of motion effects and nanotechnology to generate a renewable source of electricity,” says Professor Stilios.

Scientists are now seeking to optimize the friction that occurs between the two materials to generate an energy charge. They are developing a flexible fabric, known as a triboelectric nanogenerator, or TEN for short, to create, store and transmit energy.

Professor Stilios continues, “Our main goal is to increase the power output to make this option useful. For example, textile FETs currently produce power in the microwatt to milliwatt range. We need to increase the friction hundreds of times to achieve the hundreds of milliwatts of power needed to power most mobile devices.”

“Once we’ve generated and stored that power, the question becomes, how do we transfer it to mobile devices? We have several ways to do that. First, we can store the electricity in a small polymer battery on the clothes themselves. But I prefer the second option, where the energy would be fed wirelessly to the battery of the gadget. It would just be enough to put it in your pocket.”