A shirt you wear can charge your phone!!! Wondering how?

By Shilpa Annie Joseph, Official Reporter
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Piezoelectric clothing
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Smartphone’s emergence was a major breakthrough in the technology sector and now the demand has arisen for smart clothes for which scientists around the globe are brainstorming. Imagine a day when you can charge your phone with the T-shirt you wear!!!

Researchers have found an innovative way to produce nylon fibers that can generate electricity from simple body movements, which paves the era for smart clothes that can monitor our health with the help of miniaturized sensors and charge devices without any extra power and any electric shocks.

Scientists have relied on a phenomenon known as piezoelectricity which converts mechanical energy into electric energy. Simply by tapping or distorting a piezoelectric material, it will generate electricity. 

This research was done in a collaboration between the University of Bath, the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Germany and the University of Coimbra in Portugal and led by professor Kamal Asadi from the Department of Physics at Bath and his student Saleem Anwar.

The study says that while wearing piezoelectric clothing, for example, a shirt, even the swinging motion made by the arms can create sufficient movement in the shirt’s fibers to generate electricity and the charge can be taken away, stored in a capacitor for instance and then put to use like to charge the phones.

Piezoelectric clothing
Piezoelectricity converts mechanical energy into electric energy, by tapping or distorting piezoelectric material electricity can be generated.

“Piezoelectric materials make good candidates for energy harvesting from mechanical vibrations, such as body motion, but most of these materials are ceramic and contain lead, which is toxic and makes their integration in wearable electronics or clothes challenging,” Mr. Asadi explained.

The piezoelectric features of nylon were known to scientists since the 1980s itself and its lead-free and non-toxic nature made it more appealing. But the challenge was to create nylon fibers that retain its piezoelectric properties.

Nylon, in its raw polymer form, is a white powder that can be mixed with other substances (natural or man-made) and then reshaped into different products. The piezoelectric property of nylon arrives in it when it is converted into a particular crystal form.

The traditional method of making nylon crystals is to melt, rapidly cool and then stretch it. Even though this method gives thick slabs of nylon that are piezoelectric but it is not suited for clothing.

With this research, the scientists took a new approach which was by mixing an acid solution with acetone (a chemical best known as a paint thinner), the mixture was able to dissolve the nylon and turn it into a piezoelectric phase.

Piezoelectric fibers is a groundbreaking development in producing electronic textiles with clear applications in the field of wearable electronics.

The electricity generated from the fibers of piezoelectric clothing could be stored in a battery fixed in a pocket that can be connected to devices.

“In years to come, we could be using our T-shirts to power a device such as our mobile phone as we walk in the woods, or for monitoring our health,” said Mr. Asadi.