Loughborough University develops nanogenerators for ‘smart clothing’

Researchers from Loughborough University have developed a new nanogenerator technology which could create affordable ‘smart clothing’ capable of sensing health levels.

Loughborough University

The research, led by the University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, has used 3D printing techniques to create a new Triboelectric Nanogenerator (TENG) design.

According to the researchers, the TENG design can then be customised through a series of liquids for the purpose of efficiently extracting energy from movements and for sensing.

In a statement, Dr Ishara Dharmasena, Senior Lecturer at Wolfson school and the project lead, said: “TENGs are a rapidly growing piece of technology which are becoming a leading candidate in developing future smart textile and health monitoring applications.

“The finding of this study, which provides detailed insights into how these devices can be made more efficient and effective, directly feeds into our efforts to develop technologies such as ‘super-smart textiles’, leading to a promising future with advanced and sustainable wearables.”

The researchers said that they found several previously unknown trends in the output of TENGs during the initial study which could ‘significantly improve’ the performance of the devices, to make them more efficient, smaller, and cheaper.

Looking ahead, the researchers said that a key factor for success is to understand how best to design the TENG, to provide users with the best possible electrical performance.

“Dielectric constant of the TENG – which measures a substance’s ability to store electrical energy within an electric field, is a decisive factor which need to be engineered during this design process,” said Dr Dharmasena.

“As there is little knowledge on how the dielectric constant can be tuned to control TENG electrical outputs, understanding the real impact of it within this space has been particularly difficult experimentally, as it is a unique property for a given material.

“Changing the dielectric constant would typically mean changing the material or doing significant modifications, which changes many other properties such as surface area and charge density. This creates a lot of complexity in their design process.

“However, our findings allow us to alter the dielectric constant without interfering with any of the other properties – it’s a tremendous breakthrough.”

The study, published in Nano Energy, can be read in full here.