The scientists have developed a flexible fabric that claims to deliver twice the power output of current energy harvesting textiles.
The research, led by Professor Elias Siores, demonstrates the development of continuous piezoelectric yarns which show high flexibility and high mechanical strength. The research has made it possible for piezoelectric fiber to be woven into intricate and complex structures, such as 3D spacer textiles, opening a new horizon for commercial applications.
The University of Bolton’s Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC) post-doctoral research fellow, Dr Navneet Soin, and co-author of the paper, said: "We believe that this is just the first step in the creation of true wearable energy harvesting structures which do not look and feel any different from the conventional fabrics and yet provide the highest level of functionality."
The use of 3D textile structures has been around for decades in applications such as medical textiles and highly breathable sportswear but Dr Soin beleives there have been no reports of the use of 3D textiles for piezoelectric energy harvesting.
Flexible piezoelectric fibers can generate electricity by harnessing the energy created by an impact or movement, for example a footstep on a carpet, then converting that mechanical energy into electrical power.
"The next step of the project is to focus on a couple of core applications and develop it from there. We envisage that with continued development in the area, we could be looking at actual commercial harvesters based on this technology in the next four to five years," explained Dr Soin.
The fibers can be knitted together to from a 3D fabric composed of two separate conducting, silver-coated polyamide textile faces (the electrodes) joined together by a poly(vinylidene fluoride) (PVDF) spacer yarn (the piezoelectric component). Compression of the fabric causes the spacer yarn to generate a charge that is collected by the two metallic faces. The melt spinning process used to generate the fibers is much faster than traditional electrospinning and a higher throughput can therefore be achieved.
Currently 1–5μW/cm2 of power can be generated which is enough to power a small sensor.
The research work is a collaboration between the University’s Institute of Materials Research and Innovation (IMRI) and Institute for Renewable Energy and Environmental Technologies (IREET), both world renowned research centres. The fiber and 3D structure developed will be taken to market by FibrLec, a new sustainable energy company working with the University to commercialize its innovative smart materials in renewable energy applications.
The research has been published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, in the academic journal, Energy and Environmental Science ( EES, impact factor of 11.65 ).
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