The fusion of technology and fabric has been giving birth to super textiles for a while now. These are smart fabrics that are capable of doing things that we once thought impossible. Most recently there has been talk about a waterproof fabric developed by researchers in Taiwan and the US to harvest energy from raindrops. The Triboelectric Material, which has been designed to allow an umbrella to charge an electrical device, is proof of the growing interest in the fabric being capable of harvesting energy from both human movement and ambient motion.
Introducing The Super Material
Triboelectric Material is the first energy-harvesting fabric capable of converting kinetic energy to electrical power from multiple sources like wind, rain and human movement. The energy harvesting is achieved when energy generated via specific materials are rubbed together causing friction, which in turn causes electrons to be transferred from one material to the other. This, in turn, allows for harvesting energy from gusts of wind or individual raindrops, as well as from the motion of a person wearing a garment to take place.
Designed by weaving together silver fibres and lyocell rayon, the new material has been developed to work with a myriad of applications in wearable technology and self-powered sensors. On their material Ying-Chih Lai from the National Chung Hsing University said: “The nanogenerators on the umbrella and raincoat can harvest water drops’ impact energy, transforming this into electricity to light up tens of light‐emitting diodes.”
Overcoming Design Limitations
Like all materials, there are always limitations to overcome. For those familiar with energy harvesting materials, it is no secret that they are usually designed to harvest energy from one specific type of motion. Another limitation is that the presence of water has been known to inhibit the triboelectric effect.
Looking to solve these shortfalls, Lai and his co-workers from the National Chung Hsing University and the Georgia Institute of Technology new nanogenerator design has been made out of layers of waterproof, high-triboelectric effect fabric that have proved to not diminish its performance even after repeated washings. It has been reported that “the material is as flexible as fabrics used in conventional clothing and its elastic features enable it to collect energy from multiple sources”.
On overcoming the challenges, Lai told the media: “The multifunctional yet nimble fabric nanogenerator design can not only address the long‐lasting challenge of waterproof, adaptive, deformable, and universal energy devices for locally accessible energy but also bring a new class of wearable energy and smart fabric articles.”
There is no denying that this new fabric has potential. It is a wonder material that has an edge that will allow it to be used in everyday products like soles of shoes, raincoats and umbrellas. Although the Triboelectric Material is still in development, we have to applaud their ability to be able to combine multiple functions within one material successfully.