Solar and wind energy generated by fabric

Charging your phone because the wind makes your curtains move, generating electricity. Today, it is possible. Not one, but two separate research groups have recently come up with a textile that can generate energy from both solar and wind energy.

Textiles that act as a solar panel or that can generate wind energy already exist, but both a research group from Georgia Institute of Technology and a duo from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a fabric that generates energy from both wind ánd sun.

The first, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, led by Zhong Lin Wang, have created a 320 micrometres thick woollen fabric, made with interwoven solar cells that are constructed from lightweight polymer fibres with fibre-based triboelectric nanogenerators. These are woven together with a commercial textile machine. The compounds are inexpensive to make and environmentally friendly.

Triboelectric nanogenerators use a combination of the triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction to generate small amount of electrical power from mechanical motion such as rotation, sliding or vibration. A 4 x 5 centimetre (1.6 x 2 inch) piece charged up to 2 volts in one minute under sunlight and movement.

Marianne Fairbanks, a designer, and Trisha Andrews, an assistant professor of organic chemistry, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have gone about it slightly differently. They wanted to use a coating, but fabrics, as opposed to flat surfaces, are three dimensional, which means they are harder to coat. Eventually, they developed a coating of Poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) (also known as ‘PEDOT’) and three layers of semiconducting dyes photoactive layers or light absorbers for the cell.

The conductivity of the coating is dependant on the fabric it is applied to. The two constructed 25.4 x 25.4 cm (10 x 10 inch) swatches of different weave patterns, with the most efficient generating about 400 milliwatts of power, by simply waving it around like a little flag. A curtain of 122 x 122 centimetre (48 x 48 inch) would be enough to charge a phone.

Fairbanks and Andrews made a prototype glove that they hope to market, made out of pineapple fibre, which is very conductive and absorbs the heat, and cotton, which acts as a brake to keep the heat contained between the layers.

Both fabrics are suited for outerwear, such as gloves, but also as curtains or tents. Soon enough, you will not have to worry anymore if you forgot to charge your phone in the wilderness.