New fabric harvests solar and wind energy

Researchers from Georgia Tech have been working on a fabric that harvests energy from both sunshine and motion, which could be used to generate power in the field.

(Credit: Gerogia Tech)
(Credit: Gerogia Tech)

The textile combines solar cells constructed from lightweight polymer fibres with fibre-based triboelectric nanogenerators. The nanogenerators use a combination of the triboelectric effect – a type of contact electrification – and electrostatic induction to harvest power from physical motion such as rotation, sliding or vibration.

“This hybrid power textile presents a novel solution to charging devices in the field from something as simple as the wind blowing on a sunny day,” said Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering. “The fabric is highly flexible, breathable, light weight and adaptable to a range of uses.”

When woven together with strands of wool, the fabric is 320 micrometres thick. According to Wang, the overall production process is low-cost and green, and the fabric could potentially be integrated into the material of tents or clothing.

“The backbone of the textile is made of commonly used polymer materials that are inexpensive to make and environmentally friendly,” he said. “The electrodes are also made through a low-cost process, which makes it possible to use large-scale manufacturing.”

In one of their experiments, Wang’s team used a piece of fabric about A4 size and hung it from the window of a moving car. According to the researchers, they were able to generate significant power, even on a cloudy day. The team also measured the output from a 4 x 5 centimetre piece of the material, which charged up a 2mF commercial capacitor to 2V in one minute using a combination of sunlight and movement.