Piezoelectric Zinc Oxide Nanowire Fashions For Spring

Textile fibers covered with zinc oxide nanowires have been shown to generate electricity. Georgia Tech researchers have done the work: your clothing may be able to power your iPhone or Blackberry just by harvesting the energy in bodily movement.

(Piezoelectric zinc oxide nanowires)

Here's how it works:

[P]airs of textile fibers covered with zinc oxide nanowires generate electricity in response to applied mechanical stress. Known as "the piezoelectric effect," the resulting current flow from many fiber pairs woven into a shirt or jacket could allow the wearer's body movement to power a range of portable electronic devices. The fibers could also be woven into curtains, tents or other structures to capture energy from wind motion, sound vibration or other mechanical energy.

Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, remarks

"The two fibers scrub together just like two bottle brushes with their bristles touching, and the piezoelectric-semiconductor process converts the mechanical motion into electrical energy. Many of these devices could be put together to produce higher power output."

Thus far, researchers have measured current of about four nanoamperes and a voltage of four millivolts from a nanogenerator that included two fibers that were each one centimeter long.

(Piezoelectric zinc oxide nanowire test stand)

Wang estimates that a square meter of the special fabric could generate as much as 80 milliwatts of continuous power.

My favorite instance of parasitic power harvesting is, of course, the stillsuit from Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune. In the novel, the larger motions of the body, like breathing and walking, were parasitized for their power.

Paul sat on the edge of his bed and began stripping off his desert boots. They smelled rancid from the lubricant which eased the action of the heel-powered pumps that drove his stillsuit.
(Read more about the stillsuit from Dune)

Make sure your future fashions make use of this research:

From National Science Foundation via Tech-Stiles: Clothes that produce power.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/16/2008)

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