By Sam Parker
It seems a cellphone’s battery is always running low when you are waiting at your gate in the airport, strolling down the aisles of the grocery store or sitting in the driver’s seat on your way to work. It is always those inopportune times when your battery is hanging onto 5 percent power, you are nowhere near an electrical outlet and you need to make an important phone call.
David Carroll, physicist and head of Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, has developed a fabric that would allow users to charge their electronic devices without needing to plug them in. The fabric, called Power Felt, utilizes changes in temperature to create an electrical current.
How Does Power Felt Work?
By combining properties found in the conductivity of metal and the insulating nature of cloth, Carroll and his team designed Power Felt, a combination of carbon nanotubes and woven plastic fiber mats, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The material creates thermoelectricity by utilizing an individual’s body heat and, because Power Felt requires few nanotubes to ensure electricity, it is a relatively inexpensive material to create. For example, a swatch large enough to cover a cellphone can cost as little as $1, Carroll told Businessweek.
“A thermoelectric voltage is very easily understood,” Carroll told WFMY News 2 in Greensboro, N.C. “Imagine a bar of metal. You grab one end of the metal and the electrons underneath your hand are getting warm, and so they scoot down to the other end of the bar. That creates an excess of electrons on one side and a deficit on the other which gives you a voltage.”
Power Felt Applications: Charge Your Smartphone, iPod or Power Household Appliances
Power Felt can be sewn into clothing, chairs or electronic cases, bringing electricity to different media. Through the radiating heat of your hand or pocket, the fabric’s electrons are able to react to the increased temperatures to spark a current. By wrapping a Power Felt-inclusive cellphone cover around your device, you can see a battery boost of up to 15 percent over an eight-hour time span, Carroll told 2nd Green Revolution. In terms of clothing, Power Felt can utilize the temperature differences found between the inside and outside of a shirt, say between the warmth of the shirt’s armpit and the coldness of its sleeve, to create an electric current needed to charge an MP3 player, Carroll said to WFMY News 2.
Carroll’s fabric is not meant to fully charge your electronic devices, he told WFMY News 2, but it will give your battery enough of a boost to ensure you can make one more phone call or listen to a few more songs.
Beyond personal electronic devices, though, Carroll told Businessweek that Power Felt can be helpful in home construction as well. If a builder were to place the fabric underneath the roof of a house, the material can generate enough electricity to power the home’s household appliances. Because most drivers park their cars on heat-absorbing blacktops while at work, in the grocery store or in the driveway, the material can be installed on the floorboards of vehicles to run air conditioning or radios as well.
Carroll hopes to distribute the fabric to aircraft manufacturers, so it can be added to the seats of aircraft. That way, Carroll told WFMY News 2, the surplus of heat radiating from the occupied seats of a full flight can generate enough voltage to power the plane’s entertainment system.
According to Businessweek, Carroll and his team are in discussions with potential investors and they hope to perfect the product within the next two years.
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