Wearable material captures energy from body movements

Thursday, 05 May, 2022

Wearable material captures energy from body movements

Researchers from Loughborough University in the UK and the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka have developed a new, scalable manufacturing technique to create wearable fabrics embedded with very small power generators known as triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs).

The technique, detailed in the journal ACS Applied Electronic Materials, enables the creation of energy-generating textiles using established methods such as yarn coating, dip coating and screen printing to apply triboelectrically active solutions. The wearable, TENG-containing fabrics are similar in texture to knitted materials used to make jumpers and T-shirts, but can produce electricity to operate low-power electronics using our natural body movements.

TENG devices collect static charges, like those that make a balloon stick to a wall when rubbed against a jumper. Once attached to the human body or clothing, TENG devices ‘slide’ or ‘vibrate’ with movements to create an electrical signal through a process called electrostatic induction. Experts have looked to use TENGs in fabric before but, due to them being made of rigid and bulky plastic sheets and expensive manufacturing techniques, past clothing applications have been unsuccessful.

The new technique overcomes these issues by combining new conventional textile materials and carefully engineered TENG device designs. These devices display improved electricity generation and meet most of the comfort and durability requirements for textile products — a balance that has been very difficult to achieve so far in TENG research.

The 4 x 4 cm, lightweight TENG textile the researchers created produced over 35 V using mild artificial movements that replicated slow body movements, which could potentially power low-power health sensors, environmental sensors and electronic devices in the near future. Study leader Dr Ishara Dharmasena, from Loughborough’s School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering (MEME), said the technology will be “massively beneficial for future smart textile and wearable electronic applications” and could support the global shift to remote health monitoring.

“With this research, we were able to demonstrate that we can use the existing textile materials and common textile manufacturing techniques to produce wearable TENGs with balanced electrical and comfort properties,” Dharmasena said.

“This work will lead to further research on how we can convert the common textiles into energy-generating clothing for various future applications including health care, communication, sports and personal electronics.”

Dharmasena and his team are now looking at practical applications of TENG technology and are keen to hear from industrial and academic collaborators in the areas of smart textiles, health sensing technologies, nanotechnology and fabrication. If anyone is interested in collaborating in this area, they can email Dharmasena at r.i.dharmasena@lboro.ac.uk.

Image caption: The lightweight and thin TENG textile produced over 35 V using mild artificial movements.

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