Working up a sweat from carrying a heavy load? That is when the textile works at its best. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have developed a fabric that converts kinetic energy into electric power, in cooperation with the Swedish School of Textiles in Borås and the research institute Swerea IVF. The greater the load applied to the textile and the wetter it becomes the more electricity it generates. The results are now published in the Nature Partner journal Flexible Electronics.
Chalmers researchers Anja Lund and Christian Müller have developed a woven fabric that generates electricity when it is stretched or exposed to pressure. The fabric can currently generate enough power to light an LED, send wireless signals or drive small electric units such as a pocket calculator or a digital watch.
The technology is based on the piezoelectric effect, which results in the generation of electricity from deformation of a piezoelectric material, such as when it is stretched. In the study the researchers created a textile by weaving a piezoelectric yarn together with an electrically conducting yarn, which is required to transport the generated electric current.
“The textile is flexible and soft and becomes even more efficient when moist or wet,” Lund says. “To demonstrate the results from our research we use a piece of the textile in the shoulder strap of a bag. The heavier the weight packed in the bag and the more of the bag that consists of our fabric, the more electric power we obtain. When our bag is loaded with 3 kilos of books, we produce a continuous output of 4 microwatts. That’s enough to intermittently light an LED. By making an entire bag from our textile, we could get enough energy to transmit wireless signals.”
The textile consists of piezoelectric yarns woven together with electrically conducting yarns. A piezoelectric yarn is made up of 24 fibres each as thin as a strand of hair, with each fibre having an electrically conducting core surrounded by an insulating and piezoelectric polymer. During manufacture the fabric is exposed to a high electric field, which causes positive and negative charges in the polymer to be separated in an orderly manner. When the textile is then stretched or exposed to pressure, the deformation of the fibres causes a reorganisation of the charge distribution, thus generating an electrical voltage. The electrically conducting yarn is required to form a closed circuit through which an electric current can flow.