Electricity-Generating T-Shirts Could Someday Power Your iPhone

by , 01/22/11   filed under: Featured, Wearable Technology


Photos by Scott Liddell

Adios wall warts, hello wearable power supplies. University of Texas at Dallas scientists are spinning yarn out of powder-infused carbon nanotubes in the hopes of creating textiles that can power the latest iFad. The nanotubes give superconducting particles, such as boron and magnesium powder, a more manageable form without binders or lasers. Their goal: To weave this energy-transmitting yarn into lightweight batteries you can wear.



Powdered materials like boron and magnesium play a vital role in battery electrodes, superconducting wires, and even catalysts in fuel cells, but they are difficult to work with without complicated processes to bind their shape. By “growing” a web of nanotubes and then spraying it with the powder, any finely ground material can be turned into a “sewable, knittable, knotable, braidable yarn,” says Ray Baughman, director of the university’s Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute. The powder, which can account for 95 to 99 percent of the yarn’s weight, is trapped inside the twists of the nanotube web. “When you wash it, almost all the powder is retained,” he adds.

No need to search for a power outlet—charging your device could be as simple as plugging it into your T-shirt.

The researchers at the University of Texas aren’t the only ones working on conductive textiles. Their Rice University colleagues are making carbon-nanotube fibers that are very dense and conductive. These fibers may someday be used in low-loss electrical-transmission cables or in super-strong structural materials. Another lab at Stanford University is developing textile-based energy-storage devices. Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, believes that wearable batteries could one day power our gadgets.

The concept of wearable batteries that look like regular clothing could be a major game-changer. Designers worldwide will be clamoring to incorporate energy-storing textiles into their collections. No need to search for a power outlet—charging your device could be as simple as plugging it into your T-shirt.

[Via Technology Review and Fast Company]

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One Response to “Electricity-Generating T-Shirts Could Someday Power Your iPhone”

  1. Jason B says:

    I’m not sure why the title of this article refers to electricity *generation*. The article doesn’t even mention generation. It is talking about *storage*, i.e. the fabric acts like a battery, which is completely different. And a massively important distinction. Why? Because the amount of energy generated from movements in fabric would be irrelevant in terms of the power needed to run any current consumer portable electronics. Think about it. How much energy do you think you expend moving your clothes? The energy isn’t created mystically just because you put a t-shirt on.

    Using fabric as a battery (which would require an external power source to charge it), is quite interesting as a concept but would have to demonstrate that it is more efficient and practical than a regular embedded battery. After all, we should be getting past the point of inventing less efficient solutions than ones we already have, no matter how interesting they may look. The solutions which aren’t wearable-fabric related such as transmission cables are probably where this research is really headed.

    And if people really wanted to passively generate electricity from the human body, heat loss would be a far more interesting place to start looking, because that’s measurable in watts, not milliwatts.

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