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Close-up of Power Generating Fiber  (Source: Reuters)

Wang Holding Fiber  (Source: Reuters)
Scientists use nanogenerators in fabric to generate electricity

A group of scientists in the United States has a plan that will boost the run time of small gadgets like phones a MP3 players to possibly unlimited proportions, without the need for batteries. The scientists hope to do this with fabric that generates its own electricity.

The idea is that fiber-based nanogenerators would be woven into the fabric of a shirt and the friction cause by moving around would be transferred into energy to power the device. Scientists even say that simply standing in a breeze could generate all the power your iPod needs to play indefinitely.

Zhong Lin Wang of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the leader of the study researchers, said, “The fiber-based nanogenerator would be a simple and economical way to harvest energy from the physical movement.”

According to Reuters, the nanogenerator wires generate electricity by taking advantage of the semiconductive properties of zinc oxide nanowires. Each of the nanowires is about 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

These nanowires are formed into pairs that resemble a microscopic bottle brush and when they rub together electricity is generated. One of the fibers in each pair is coated with gold to serve as an electrode.

Wang told Reuters, “When a nanowire bends it has an electric effect. What the fabric does is it translates the mechanical movement of your body into electricity.”

The tiny nanogenerators were created by the researchers by coating fibers with a polymer and adding a layer of zinc oxide when was then covered again with a polymer to keep the zinc from coming off. Current is produced only when the gold coated fibers and zinc oxide fibers brush together.

According to Wang, the researchers estimate that a fabric made with this process would generate around 80 mW of power per square meter of fabric. The researchers see the technology being used by hikers and soldiers in the field to power sensors and other electronic devices.

Wang and his team have a major hurdle to overcome before the technology can be put into use. The zinc oxide required to create the electricity degrades when it gets wet. Research into a type of coating that will keep the zinc oxide from degrading in the wash or rain is underway.

If the researchers sort out the water issue coupling this electricity generating fabric with the LED fabric Philips demonstrated in 2007 could yield some interesting garments.

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By HighWing on 2/15/2008 12:43:08 PM , Rating: 2
ok I just see one problem with this. Lets say you have this woven into your jacket, you spill something on the jacket, so naturally you through it into the washing machine. When it's done there you come back to put it into the dryer and get zapped when you pick up the wet electrically charged jacket. Or your dryer explodes as the heat induced charge causes the fabric to catch fire while tumbling around.

Show me how they plan to ensure that doesn't happen and then I'll be amazed by this.

RE: cleaning?
By bobny1 on 2/15/2008 2:02:08 PM , Rating: 2
Easy!. Just put an on/off switch in the collar.;(

RE: cleaning?
By HighWing on 2/15/2008 2:59:46 PM , Rating: 2
well no.....

Current is produced only when the gold coated fibers and zinc oxide fibers brush together.

I don't think you can put an on off switch to stop that from happening.....
which means regardless of weather the power is being sent out through what ever connector the fabric has, it is still generating electricity as it's being washed and/or tumbled dry. I'm sure it's going to have some kind of waterproof coating, but any holes in that coating would cause the water to hold a small charge. Not life threating, but I'm sure future versions of this could deliver enough power to surprise you. And in the case of the dryer, well everyone knows extreme heat and electricity are a great combination for fire starters.

"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs
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