By Andrea Pyka
Tired of reading in the dark to avoid costly electricity bills? Sounds like you need a “power-shirt.”
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are currently in the process of perfecting a type of microfiber for clothing that would harness enough convertible energy from ultrasonic waves, mechanical vibrations or blood flow to power small electronic devices like an iPod or a cell phone.
Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the School of Materials and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, spearheaded the research on the new microfiber technology.
Wang initially researched self-powered technology in 2005, which resulted in the development of the new microfiber.
“I have been looking for [ways to] harvest energy from the environment,” Wang said in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press.
According to Wang, the physical movement of the body allows the microfibers in the shirt to generate energy.
“Your body movement bends the fibers back and forth and even stretches some of the fibers,” Wang said. “This is the type of mechanical energy we are looking for.”
During the initial testing stages, Wang and his group of researchers immersed zinc oxide coded wires into a reactant solution for 12 hours that caused the wires to have a temperature of around 80 degrees Celsius.
The research on the microfiber technology, which is featured in last week’s edition of Nature, explains that tiny zinc oxide nanowires — which are 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair — are woven into the fabric of a shirt.
The rubbing motion of the fibers — which are coded with a layer of gold — generates mechanical energy that can be converted into usable electricity.
In a square meter of fabric, the gold-coded fibers can produce approximately 80 miliwatts of power.
During the following testing stages, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are hoping to increase the voltage levels of the fibers.
While the study on microfibers is a big step in technological advances, researchers are still facing several challenges including making the microfibers waterproof.
The zinc oxide fibers cannot withstand moisture and therefore a rainstorm or washing would render the fibers powerless.
Through further research and tests, Wang’s long-term goal is to make clothes and other items made with these microfibers readily available to the public at an affordable price.
Researchers are also planning on expanding the widespread use of the microfiber technology by weaving the fibers into curtains and tents, which could capture energy from wind motion or sound vibrations.
“A lot more needs to be done,” Wang said. “We will be busy for the next few years.”
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