Hybrid material enables power-producing fabrics

Researchers at Bolton University have developed a flexible photovoltaic-piezoelectric fibre that can be woven to create energy-harnessing fabrics.

The research scientists from the university’s Institute for Materials Research and Innovation (IMRI) developed the material with funding from the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC). They are now working with a development company in China to bring their smart material invention to market.

Prof Elias Siores, principal inventor of the hybrid fibre and director of research at the university said: ’Our hybrid photovoltaic-piezoelectric material… can be woven into everything, including laptop and mobile phone cases. In its casing the appliance could be charging, as it is handled or placed near sunlight.

’The most immediate applications will be in the area of low-power microelectronic-driven devices such as mobiles, laptops, MP3s, iPads; anything that requires rechargeable batteries or small batteries to run.

’The next challenge will then be to improve on the power conversion through on-going research and development so it can feed more power-hungry systems.’

The research team is set to start producing samples of the hybrid material using equipment bought through £1m funding from KCMC.

Research fellow Dr Ravi Hadimani has been measuring how much electricity is generated by the hybrid material.

Dr Hadimani said: ’We have conducted a number of experiments, measuring lower-level electricity generated by hybrid photovoltaic and piezoelectric cell but can bring in one watt of energy per 20cm x 20cm square of the material.

‘When you consider a low-energy light bulb uses nine watts you can see that now, even in its early development stages, the material is producing credible power.

’We will be testing the photovoltaic-piezoelectric fibre as soon as we can. But in theory it should be at least as effective in gathering energy.’

Bolton University will be working with GK opto-electronics and Nanchang Hangkong University in China to further develop the energy-harnessing fibre over the next three years.

Piezoelectrics could help satisfy the wireless generation’s insatiable appetite for energy. Click here to read more.