Imagine wearing clothes that could automatically recharge our mobile phones, our iPods and other gadgets.
Well that day could soon become a reality thanks to the work of engineers at Stanford University in California.
Dr Yi Cui an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and his team found that if they coated paper or fabric with ink laced with single walled carbon nanotubes, the material could basically be turned into a type of low cost and efficient lightweight battery.
That doesn’t fit with our usual image of batteries as hard, chunky, and weighty things but instead of storing energy by chemical means as in traditional batteries, nanotubes store electrostatic energy, and it doesn’t compromise the flexibility of the fabric.
“The key ingredients in developing these high-tech products are not visible to the human eye. Nanostructures, which can be assembled in patterns that allow them to transport electricity, may provide the solutions to a number of problems encountered with electrical storage devices currently available on the market” said a Stanford report on the Stanford University news page.
Although it’s still in the early stages of development, Dr Cui reckons that clothing coated with the ink could power devices for soldiers on the battle field, that it could allow us to charge up our devices whilst on the move, and that it could even offer the possibility of energy storing wallpaper in the home.
“Energy storage is a pretty old field” said Dr Cui, who was presenting his research at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
“Supercapacitors, batteries – those things are old. How do you really make a revolutionary impact in this field? It requires quite a dramatic difference of thinking.”
Cui is now going to focus on how to incorporate nanotechnology into energy development and not just to answer theoretical questions but also with the aim of producing products that have a practical value.
“This is the right time to really see what we learn from nanoscience and do practical applications that are extremely promising” said Cui.
“The beauty of this is, it combines the lowest cost technology that you can find to the highest tech nanotechnology to produce something great. I think this is a very exciting idea … a huge impact for society.”