Fabric that Produces or Stores Electricity

Due to the science of nanotechnology, the possibility of creating fabric that produces energy, along with the potential for fabric to store energy, has become a reality. The products already being produced or developed using such fabrics allow you to charge your electronic devices using your tent, awning, or even the clothing you wear.

Draw energy with nano-enabled solar cells

Wearable, nano-enabled solar cells are available in stores today in the form of backpacks made by a company called Traveler’s Choice. This product contains Kornaka Technologies’ Power Plastic, a flexible solar cell that uses organic molecules with nanoparticles embedded in a plastic substrate to improve the efficiency of the solar cells.

If you walk around with a Traveler’s Choice backpack or briefcase on a sunny day, it can charge your cell phone or extend the battery life of any electronic device.

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Konarka focuses on using Power Fiber to seamlessly weave photovoltaic material (the material which makes up solar cells) into fabric. Rather than being layered onto a plastic substrate, Power Fiber is made by coating the primary electrode with consecutive layers of active material made from nanoparticles, the transparent electrode, and the transparent substrate. Fabrics can have the same look and feel as regular fabrics, while being able to produce power.

Other companies are also working on nano-enabled solar cell material that can be woven into fabric. For example, Solarmer Energy says it will have such a product available in 2011. This company’s plastic solar cells are intended for use in smart fabrics. The cells can be “printed” on the fabric for products such as jackets, tents, awnings, and suitcases using nanoparticle ink.

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Global Photonic Energy Corporation has created a technology that it calls SM-OPV FlexPower to create solar cells with high levels of performance. These flexible, organic cells can be placed in plastic substrates or woven into fabric in the form of power-generating threads.

Use fibers to store energy

Batteries store energy. Your standard battery contains a metallic foil that is covered with a substance called an electrolyte and then coiled inside the battery. At Stanford, researchers have now produced batteries using fabric.

The fabric is soaked in ink containing nanoparticles. One piece of fabric is soaked in nanoparticles that make it act like an anode, and another piece to which it’s attached is soaked in different nanoparticles to make it act like a cathode. (The exchange of ions between an anode and a cathode causes a battery to release or store electrons.)

This fabric, which the researchers have named eTextiles, is much less costly to produce than the metallic foil used in traditional batteries.

If you vary the ingredients in the ink into which the fabric gets dipped, you can create a supercapacitor, which is another device used to store energy. The ink used to make the batteries contains oxide nanoparticles, and the ink used to make the supercapacitors contains single-walled carbon nanotubes.

Because textiles soak up the conductive ink so well, they make very efficient storage devices. They can hold about three times as much energy as your mobile phone battery and are stronger and more durable.

Being able to store power on your person could make it possible to have your clothes monitor your health or display messages. Perhaps the latter would be handy if you want to flirt with that person across a crowded room?

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