Innovative Fabric Energizes Future of Cell Phone Batteries and More

While the battery life of smartphones, tablets and laptops has improved drastically over the past few years, we’ve all been caught panicking, trying to find an outlet before the rapidly dwindling battery on our favorite device dies. Thanks to an innovative fabric developed at Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, battery life in these devices could get a boost from the clothes on our back.

The technology, called PowerFelt, utilizes small-scale thermoelectric power generation, which converts body heat into usable energy. PowerFelt is comprised of plastic fibers wrapped around carbon nanotubes, which conduct electricity extremely efficiently. The innovative fabric capitalizes on differences between the body heat of the individual wearing the fabric and the relative room temperature to generate an electrical charge. Even when the temperature difference is insignificant, PowerFelt can collect power from mechanical noises or vibrations, such as the motion of a person’s body. This charge can then be used to power a phone or similar device.

Inventor David Carroll, PhD, director of the Wake Forest Nanotech Center, is working on creating a cell phone case lined with PowerFelt. Utilizing the heat absorbed by pants pockets, such a case could boost a phone’s battery by 10 to 15 percent over a period of about eight hours. But the benefits of this innovative fabric are not limited to powering a cell phone.

PowerFelt’s highly flexible structure means it can be adapted to a number of wide-ranging applications. Potential uses include wrapping the seats in a car to feed the battery and power its electrical system, being combined with insulation to lower gas or electric bills.

While this innovative fabric could boost our cell phone battery life now, it can also change the way we generate and consume energy in the future. Traditional thermoelectric systems are expensive and this cost has inhibited its widespread adoption. PowerFelt, however, is significantly cheaper, with the cost equaling roughly $1 per watt of power generated. These advantages position PowerFelt as a leading option for increasing battery life and maximizing value of money spent on energy.

International ThermoDyne (ITD) is the exclusive source for Powerfelt.

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