Technology experts produce energy-generating textiles

Experts in technology are developing ground-breaking energy-generating fabrics that can generate electricity by using energy from body movements.

According to new research from Loughborough University, clothing that can analyze our health, share information, and generate electricity may soon be offered to the public. Dr. Ishara Dharmasena of the School of Mechanical, Electrical, and Manufacturing Engineering (MEME) has developed a new, scalable manufacturing technique to create energy-generating textiles embedded with very small power generators known as Triboelectric Nanogenerators (TENGs) in collaboration with a team of researchers at the University of Moratuwa (Sri Lanka).

The technology, described in an article published in ACS Applied Electronic Materials, can transform conventional textile materials into energy-generating textiles by employing proven processes such as yarn coating, dip coating, and screen printing to apply triboelectrically active solutions.

Wearable TENG-containing fabrics

TENG-containing fabrics have a texture similar to knitted materials used to produce jumpers and t-shirts. Unlike your usual pullover, however, these energy-generating textiles can generate enough electricity to power low-power gadgets utilizing our natural body movements.

The researchers designed a 4cm-by-4cm lightweight and thin TENG textile that produced over 35V of voltage using modest artificial movements that mimicked sluggish body movements. In the near future, this energy-generating textiles technology could power health sensors, environmental sensors, and electronic equipment.

How the energy-generating textiles technology works

According to Dr. Dharmasena, this technology will be massively beneficial for future smart textile and wearable electronic applications. With this research, we were able to show that wearable TENGs with balanced electrical and comfort properties can be produced using commonly used textile materials and manufacturing techniques.

Through a technique known as electrostatic induction, TENG devices gather static charges and, if affixed to the human body or article of clothing, "slide" or "vibrate" in response to physical motions to produce an electrical signal.

Although experts have previously looked into using TENGs in fabric, their past attempts to utilize them in garments have failed because they were constructed of large, hard plastic sheets and required expensive manufacturing procedures.

The majority of the comfort and durability requirements for textile products are met by this energy-generating textiles technology, which has demonstrated better power generation—a balance that has proven extremely challenging to accomplish in the TENG research area thus far.

This work is a component of a project managed by Dr. Dharmasena and sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering, which aims to develop super-smart textiles with sensors that may be used for remote health monitoring. He and his group are currently investigating the useful uses of TENG technology and want to work with academic and industrial partners in the fields of fabrication, nanotechnology, smart fabrics, and health monitoring technologies.