Nanogenerators Promise 'Power Suits' of the Future

I am always a little amazed at the length we are willing to go to improve our personal electronics. Whenever I see the latest nanotech research that will improve our gadgets I'm reminded of Nokia’s and Cambridge University’s demonstration of plastic electronics that proposed a flexible mobile phone. I could never quite get my head around why we would want a mobile phone that you could bend when what we really want is a phone in which the battery doesn’t run out after a few hours.

In the latest research along the lines of improving our personal electronics experience an international research team led by Professor Liwei Lin at the University of California Berkeley has developed nanofibers that possess piezoelectric properties and can be woven into the textiles of clothing. The idea is that as you move about the bending and stretching will be cause the piezoelectric to generate electricity that can be used to power your personal electronics.

While other research teams have made this type of generator on the nanoscale, they did so with inorganic materials that were brittle and easy to break. The Berkeley team made the fibers with an organic material that are not only more flexible than their inorganic cousins but easier to produce in significant quantities.

While the article I reference above describing the research mentions powering hand-held electronics, I suppose it’s possible that ski jackets with MP3 players already built in will find this new energy source a nice alternative.

Despite this I am still a little confused as to why I would want this, but sometimes these decisions are based less on practicality and more on ineffable qualities such as “fashion”.



IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
Rachel Courtland
Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
New York, NY