Electric Fabric: More Ways to Tap Ambient Energy

Could wearing clothes help keep your gizmos charged?

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Last Friday, I blogged about a device that people could wear on their knees to convert their motion into electrical energy. Now comes more news about clever ways to harvest so-called free energy from our movement. The natural world is full of energetic motion that can be captured and converted into electricity, theoretically at no cost.

Citing a new study in Nature, the AP reports:

Someday, your shirt might be able to power your iPod—just by doing the normal stuff expected of a shirt.

Scientists have developed a way to generate electricity by jostling fabric with unbelievably tiny wires woven inside, raising the prospect of textiles that produce power simply by being stretched, rustled or ruffled by a breeze.

The research, described in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature, combines the precision of ultra-small nanotechnology with the elegant principle known as the piezoelectric effect, in which electricity is generated when pressure is applied to certain materials.

The story adds that scientists have considered tapping the piezoelectric effect by other means, including by placing mats under turnstiles at railway stations and by capturing energy from falling raindrops. How about something we can stick in our mouths to capture mechanical energy when we chew? Then our species' collective habit of overeating might at least keep the heating bills down.

A parting thought (and don't ask me why it crossed my mind): Electric fabrics won't help nudists. And nudists presumably pay higher heating bills already. Try chewing on that.