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Using what’s available

October 11th, 2021 / By: / My Take

By Janet Preus

Scientists know that the body generates a lot of energy, and if that energy could be harvested efficiently, a person could conceivably provide the energy needed to power devices he or she is carrying. For workers in the field, warfighters, athletes, people with medical conditions and others, this kind of technology could be breakthrough. 

No, not could be. It is breakthrough. The progress that has been made and the new technology development now underway is proving harvesting available energy from our own bodies can be done. What’s perhaps most interesting is that there is not one technology being researched, but several different ones—all showing promise for a variety of applications. 

Our feature by Marie O’Mahony, “Providing your own power,” discusses some of the newest and most innovative technologies currently under development at research institutions around the world. These include on-body energy harvesting, as well as environmental sources of power.

I remember well the first time I tried to put together an article on this topic. I was fascinated with the concept and had convinced myself that there had been enough research done—and those scientists would be anxious to talk to me about their work, of course. 

That was overly optimistic. I got a little ahead of myself for that first article. It was a struggle to find any source material at all, much less anything that showed promise for commercial success. But that was more than 10 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. The field of e-textiles and smart textiles, generally, is no longer a quirky idea for early adopters. Energy harvesting is one segment of the smart textiles market that has benefited from successes in various conductive material technologies and is now poised to make great strides. This isn’t just my opinion. I direct you once again to Dr. Mahony’s feature for specific examples, as well as additional newly posted articles, including “A new class of human-powered bioelectronics” and “Heart monitoring shirt made with flexible carbon nanotube fibers” for a novel monitoring wearable.

If you are an industry participant and you think this sort of technology is not relevant to what you make or sell, I would suggest you add the word “yet” to that. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, with the success of advanced technologies and materials, the entire industrial fabric industry will one day be using some form of smart textiles, including energy harvesting devices. The concept just makes sense; the science is proving it’s possible.

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at jlpreus@ifai.com.