60-Second Science

Fabric Produces Electricity As You Wear It

Nanowires embedded in fabric produce small currents of electricity from the wearer's normal movement. Which could give a whole new meaning to the term 'running shorts.' Karen Hopkin reports.

On February 8, we told you about scientists who had created a device, worn over the knees, that could harvest the energy you otherwise waste while walking. But if high-tech kneepads aren’t your style, perhaps you’d be interested in a power-producing sport shirt? Maybe something in a literal  electric blue? Because in the February 14 issue of Nature, scientists from Georgia Tech describe a fabric that converts low-frequency vibrations into electricity.
The material was made by weaving together zinc oxide nanowires with regular textile fibers. (Although for some reason the scientists used Kevlar as their run-of-the-mill textile.) When the nanowires rub against one another, as they would while you were wearing the garment, they generate electricity. And because the wires are so small and thin, the material is quite flexible. So it could be woven into power-generating tents for soldiers—or into the ultimate power tie for the busy executive.
The scientists estimate that their nanoclothing can put out about 80 milliwatts of power per square meter of fabric. Which should be enough to operate your personal electronics. Best of all, if you buy the nanosuit made with Kevlar, you should be able to talk on your cellphone and survive getting shot.

—Karen Hopkin

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