Power Shirt Generates Electricity from Physical Motion

Power Shirt by Georgia Tech

Photo credit: Gary Meek/Georgia Tech

The perfect match for the power tie? Meet the "Power Shirt," a piece of nanotechnology-infused clothing that will be able to generate enough electricity to power small electronic devices for soldiers in the field, hikers, or just about anyone whose phycial motion can be harnessed and converted to electrical energy.

Because pairs of textile fibers covered with nanowires can generate electrical current using the piezoelectric effect—which describes the ability of certain materials to generate an electrical potential in response to mechanical stress—combining current flow from many such fiber pairs by weaving them into a shirt or jacket could allow the wearer's body movements to power a range of portable electronic devices. In fact, researchers say, the fibers could be woven into curtains, tents, or other structures to capture energy from wind motion, sound vibration, or other mechanical energy.

Georgia Tech Professor Zhong Lin Wang explains and shows the concept behind the microfiber nanogenerator, which would be the foundation for the "Power Shirt."

"The fiber-based nanogenerator would be a simple and economical way to harvest energy from physical movement," says Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "If we can combine many of these fibers in double or triple layers in clothing, we could provide a flexible, foldable and wearable power source that, for example, would allow people to generate their own electrical current while walking."

While the researchers have measured current of about four nanoamperes and an output voltage of roughly four millivolts from a nanogenerator that included two 1-centimeter-long fibers, Wang estimates that with a much-improved design, a square meter of fabric made from the fibers could theoretically generate as much as 80 milliwatts of power.

Just one problem: How to wash the shirt. Zinc oxide is sensitive to moisture, so in real-world shirts or jackets, the nanowires would have to be protected from the effects of the washing machine, says Wang. ::Georgia Tech Research News

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