Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have created a fabric that can simultaneously collect energy from both sunshine and motion. The energy harnessed could power devices like our smartphones and even global positioning systems (GPS).

“This hybrid power textile presents a novel solution to charging devices in the field from something as simple as the wind blowing on a sunny day,” says Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering’s Zhong Lin Wang, one of the researchers of the study published on Sept. 12 in the journal Nature Energy.

The team attached the fabric, with the same size as an office paper, to a rod (imagine a flag) and let it blow in the wind while the car was moving. They found that the material generated significant power. Overall, the energy output of a 4 by 5 centimeter piece charged up a 2 mF commercial capacitor to 2 volts within only one minute under sunlight and movement.

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A piece of fabric was woven with special strands of material that harvest electricity from the sun and motion. Credit: Georgia Institute of Technology

The research team used a commercial textile machine to weave together solar cells built from lightweight polymer fibers, with fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators to make the fabric. The nanogenerators employ triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction to produce a small amount of electricity from movements like rotation, sliding or vibration.

Overall, the fabric is 320 micrometers thick and is flexible, lightweight and breathable. It can be used in many things, which includes integrating it into tents, clothes and even curtains.

The fabric may seem expensive but Wang asserts that the materials for the textile were very affordable and the electrodes were built through a low-cost process. Wang adds that the textile is environment friendly and can be produced in large scale.

The researchers say that their experiments showed that the fabric is flexible and able to withstand use and motion but they will still test its long-term durability. The researchers plan to design a fabric for industrial purposes, which also includes creating a fabric that can shield electrical components from rain and moisture.