Smart fabric can harvest solar, motion energy to power wearables

WASHINGTON — U.S. and Chinese researchers said Wednesday they have developed a new “smart” fabric that can harvest both energies from sunshine and human motions, which they believed someday could be used to power wearable electronics and even cell phones.

“Wearable electronics fabricated on lightweight and flexible substrate are believed to have great potential for portable devices, but their applications are limited by the life time of batteries,” said Zhonglin Wang, professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who led the study.

“One strategy is to directly integrate a conventional rechargeable energy storage device, such as a battery or a supercapacitor, into fabrics. Such a self-powered system is a favorable power platform to be integrated into wearable electronic systems,” said Wang, also chief scientist of Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In the new study, Wang and his colleagues harvested both energies and converted them into electricity by utilizing fiber-based solar cells and nanogenerators, respectively, and then further stored them as chemical energy in fiber-based supercapacitors.

“Due to the all fiber-based structure for the entire system, our proposed hybridized self-charging textile system can be easily woven into electronic textiles to fabricate smart clothes for sustainably drive mobile or wearable electronics,” he said.

According to the professor, they attached the prototype they developed to a T-shirt and found the system had enough electricity to power small devices like a light-emitting diode (LED) or a skin sensor that measures temperature or pressure.

Wang said such a system would be costly to fabricate at the moment but he believed the the cost should drop as they further improve the design.

In addition, they will also study the durability of the material and hoped to make it washable.

“This work provides a significant progress of self-powered system and exhibits huge potential of the hybridized self-powered textile as a high efficiency energy harvester for practical application in the field of wearable electronics,” said Wang.

The findings were published in the U.S. journal Science Advances. PNA/

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