You Could Soon Be Charging Your Cell Phone With Fabric

Chen et al., Nature Energy (2016)
Chen et al., Nature Energy (2016) / Chen et al., Nature Energy (2016)

A new type of fabric could be used to charge your cellphone or smart watch, IEEE Spectrum reports. In a collaboration between scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Chongqing University in China, and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing, researchers created a textile that produces electricity in response to sunlight and movement.

Their study, published in Nature Energy, details a fabric made out of solar cell cables woven with fibers that produce electricity when they rub together. It’s just 0.32 mm thick, and could be sewn into cloth, tents, curtains, and anywhere else that would be subject to sunlight and movement.

The researchers created a 4-by-5 centimeter scrap of this fancy fabric and tested it out in natural daylight, using normal human motions like handshaking. The fabric was able to provide adequate power to keep a smartwatch running or to charge personal electronics. They also tested it out with other kinds of motion, like the power of wind moving past the window of a moving car, meaning that it doesn’t necessarily have to be worn by a human—it could be made into a flag flapping in the wind, for instance. It’s powerful enough to be used in water-splitting reactions, which could one day be a source of eco-friendly power.

In the paper, the scientists call the fibers used “lightweight and low-cost,” and the material can be made on an industrial weaving machine like other fabric. Theoretically, it wouldn’t be that hard to put this high-tech fabric on the market, meaning that you can probably look forward to electricity-generating bracelets and watch bands in the future.

[h/t IEEE Spectrum]

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