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Power-Generating Fabric

While traditionally used to protect humans from harsh climate conditions, clothes embedded with smart fibers can additionally alleviate stresses placed on the environment by humans.

Fibers can be considered ‘smart’ if their reaction to the conditions they are subject to are powerful enough to harvest energy. Primary examples of smart fibers include photovoltaic and piezoelectric fibers. Photovoltaic fibers draw on solar energy, making them suitable in applications that receive plenty of exposure to sunlight.

Piezoelectric fibers are stimulated by mechanical strain and vibration, the reaction to which is strong enough to generate energy. As piezoelectric materials portray the piezoelectric effect, they are best when used in wearable applications where they are constantly subjected to movement.

Researchers at University of Bolton, some ten miles north of Manchester, England, have been working on a hybrid that utilizes both. The idea was spearheaded by Professor Elias Siores, who is currently the Centre Director for the Institute of Materials Research at the University of Bolton.

Hybrid fibers that are woven into textiles have the ability to harness multiple elements, enabling them to generate energy during all hours of the day, as the fibers utilize sunlight, wind, rain, and kinetic energy. The fiber cords are made of a polymer, polyvinylidene fluoride (PDVF), which creates electric currents when stretched. They are additionally coated in photovoltaic paint, allowing them to harvest solar energy.

When wearing clothes made from these smart fibers, your gadgets can charge from your pocket while you walk, stretch, bend, or during hours of sunlight or temperamental weather, even while you are still. Currently, an 8-inch square of this cloth produces one watt of energy, so there is work yet to be done. Still, imagine all the energy that could be captured while performing strenuous tasks, like hiking or running, let alone if you were to dance in these materials.

In addition to clothes, these fibers can be woven into sails, with the alternating blows of wind to stimulate them, and umbrellas, upon which the constant assault of raindrops creates jolts of electricity.

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