TENG technique promises wearable low-power electronics

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In an advance that could lead to wearable low-power electronics, researchers have developed a new, scalable manufacturing technique to create fabrics embedded with TENGs (triboelectric nanogenerators).

Loughborough University

Dr Ishara Dharmasena, of Loughborough University’s School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering (MEME), and a team of researchers at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka have developed the method, which is detailed in ACS Applied Electronic Materials.

The technique can reportedly turn common textile materials into ‘energy-generating textiles’ using established methods such as yarn coating, dip coating, and screen-printing to apply triboelectrically active solutions. The wearable TENG-containing fabrics are similar in texture to knitted materials and can produce electricity to operate low-power electronics using natural body movements.

The researchers’ 4cm-by-4cm lightweight and thin TENG textile produced over 35V of voltage using mild artificial movements that replicated slow body movements, and it is claimed that this could potentially power health sensors, environmental sensors, and electronic devices.

Dr Dharmasena said the technology will be “massively beneficial for future smart textile and wearable electronic applications” and could support the global shift to remote health monitoring.

“With this research, we were able to demonstrate that we can use the existing textile materials and common textile manufacturing techniques to produce wearable TENGs with balanced electrical and comfort properties”, Dr Dharmasena said in a statement. “[With] the all-textile TENG technology we have developed a convenient power source and a self-powered sensor technology.”

He continued: “This work will lead to further research on how we can convert the common textiles into energy-generating clothing for various future applications including healthcare, communication, sports and personal electronics.”

Once attached to the human body or clothing, TENG devices ‘slide’ or ‘vibrate’ with movements to create an electrical signal through electrostatic induction.

Experts have looked to use TENGs in fabric before, but previous clothing applications have been unsuccessful because they have been made of rigid and bulky plastic sheets and expensive manufacturing techniques.

Dr Dharmasena’s technique is said to overcome these issues by combing new conventional textile materials and carefully engineered TENG device designs.

According to Loughborough, these devices display improved electricity generation and meet most of the comfort and durability requirements for textile products.

This research is part of Dr Dharmasena’s Royal Academy of Engineering-funded project focused on creating sensor-containing super-smart textiles that can be used for remote health monitoring.

He and his team are now looking at practical applications of TENG technology and are keen to hear from industrial and academic collaborators in the areas of smart textiles, health sensing technologies, nanotechnology, and fabrication.