Nanowires Could Turn Your T-Shirts Into Nano-Power Stations

A nanotech invention by a US research team offers an intriguing glimpse of the future: slip on some nanowire-embedded clothes, plug your MP3 player or cellphone into them, and as you dance or walk around, your outfit generates enough power to run the gadget. More details on how the fabric works, and some nano-imagery after the jump.

Professor Zhong Lin Wang and team of the Georgia Institute of Technology coated kevlar strands with zinc oxide nanowires, protecting the bushy wires with a polymer and adding gold to other fibers to act as a conductor. The piezoelectric power-generating action comes when the nanowires bend as two fibers rub together, translating bending of the material into electricity which flows along the gold fibers.

Professor Wang says that across several square feet of fabric the nanowire fibers can generate power adding up to tens of milliwatts, which is not a huge amount, but is certainly enough for a dribble top-up charge for your portable devices.

With a little more power, the idea could be great in smart fabrics for consumers, or even for medical or military use, but it's clearly an invention in its infancy—as Wang notes, "What we've done is demonstrate the principle and the fundamental mechanism." For the time being it also has a fundamental flaw: it's not waterproof, and putting your smart clothes in the wash would dissolve the nanowires. [BBC News and Reuters]

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