The University of Surrey, U.K., is developing technology that will allow people to act as their own power source by wearing clothing such as smart shirts and shoes that harvest and store electricity. According to information reported in Energy Harvesting Journal, the wearable power sources are triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs)—energy harvesting devices that convert the movements of materials that produce static charge into usable electricity.
When someone wears a TENG while walking or running, it harvests the mechanical energy from the movement and converts it into electricity. This can then be stored in batteries or supercapacitors and used to charge mobile phones or power medical or activity-tracking devices.
The University of Surrey researchers have introduced a new model of the original TENG concept, which was invented by Professor Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech. The researchers have created improved sensors and energy-generating devices that can be made into wearable applications—sewn into a T-shirt or attached inside a pair of shoes.
Applications are expected to reach far and wide. TENGs could be used in a sensor pad on a pavement that would light streetlamps by the energy created when stepped on by pedestrians, or placed inside a car tire connected to the vehicle’s battery. TENGs could also be useful in developing countries, especially in remote locations unconnected to electricity sources, to power equipment such as radios, wireless communication devices and medical equipment.
The researchers envision TENGs meeting household power requirements by implementing large-scale TENG networks. TENGS should be able to harness wind and wave energy to help provide power to a nation’s main grid for industrial and household use.
Professor Ravi Silva, principal supervisor of this project, commented on longevity and sustainability. “Wearable TENGs can be made from natural fabrics, such as cotton or wool, so the idea is carbon-friendly and a ‘renewable’ technology, and could be used for years.”