Researchers develop an ‘e-fabric’ capable of generating power

We’ve all had our phone run out of power at some point we really needed it and had nowhere to charge it up again. What if we could be the charger? It’s not the Matrix, but instead the clothes we wear that could be the charger for our phones. Thanks to researchers at Nottingham Trent University, they’ve developed a new ‘e-fabric’ capable of generating enough energy to power our phones.

It’s not as outlandish as you might think. Dr. Theodore Hughes-Riley, Associate Professor of Electronic Textiles, led research that has resulted in the development of an innovative e-fabric that’s embedded with 1,200 photovoltaic cells. The cells, combined together, are capable of harnessing 400 milliwatts (mWatts) of electrical energy from the sun. That’s enough to charge a basic mobile phone or smartwatch. After several testing rounds, the e-textile successfully generated 335.3 mWatts in 0.86 sunlight and 394 mWatts under total sun exposure.

“This prototype gives an exciting glimpse of the future potential for [e-fabrics],” remarked Dr. Hughes-Riley. “Until now very few people would have considered that their clothing or textiles products could be used for generating electricity. And the material which we have developed, for all intents and purposes, appears and behaves the same as any ordinary textile, as it can be scrunched up and washed in a machine. But hidden beneath the surface is a network of more than a thousand tiny photovoltaic cells which can harness the sun’s energy to charge personal devices.”

e-Fabric woven with solar cells to generate energy

The e-fabric, which is both breathable and flexible, could be incorporated into clothing and accessories ensuring that you’ll never be without a charge again. The e-fabric behaves just like any other piece of fabric and can handle washing at 40°C. This is possible thanks to the waterproof polymer resin that wraps the tiny 5 by 1.5 mm photovoltaic cells.

“This is an exciting development that builds on previous technologies we have made and illustrates how it can be scaled up to generate more power.”

This project shows how e-fabrics can be at the forefront of sustainability and that they have the potential to reshape our existing conceptions of technology. Combining long-established weaving techniques with modern technology to create future products may change people’s perceptions of clothing and electronics.