Pairs of textile fibres covered with zinc oxide nanowires can generate electrical current using the piezoelectric effect, according to a report in the journal Nature.
Combining current flow from many fibre pairs woven into a shirt or jacket could allow the wearer's body movements to power a range of devices.
The fibres could also be woven into curtains, tents or other structures to capture energy from wind motion, sound vibration or other mechanical sources.
"The fibre-based nano-generator would be a simple and economical way to harvest energy from physical movement," said Zhong Lin Wang, regents professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"If we can combine many of these fibres in double or triple layers in clothing, we could provide a flexible, foldable and wearable power source that would allow people to generate electrical current while walking."
The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy and the Emory-Georgia Tech Nanotechnology Center for Personalized and Predictive Oncology.
The microfibre nanowire hybrid system builds on the nanowire nano-generator announced by Wang's research team in April 2007.
The system generates current from arrays of vertically-aligned zinc oxide nanowires that flex beneath an electrode containing conductive platinum tips.
The nano-generator was designed to harness energy from environmental sources such as ultrasonic waves, mechanical vibrations or blood flow.
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