While we never think about it, heat energy is constantly being emitted - by you, your pets, your iPod, Television, car and any other gadget that you fire up. What's worse is that it is all being totally wasted. Now, a research team from North Carolina's Wake University has come up with a fabric that will not only capture this energy, but also, convert it, into usable electricity.
Called Power Felt, the thermoelectric material has the capability of converting the temperature differences between two surfaces into electricity, thanks to the carbon nanotubes that are entwined into the flexible plastic fibers the material is made of. So for example, a jacket made with Power Felt would be able to generate electricity, by simply capturing the difference in temperature between its cool exterior and the inside lining that has been warmed from the body heat of its wearer. The fabric is so effective, that just touching it with a finger, generates an electric current.
While the idea of materials that can harvest heat energy is not new, Power Felt is much more cost effective. According to graduate student Corey Hewitt who is spearheading the project, a cell-phone or iPod cover that could be charged using human body heat, would add just $1USD to the total cost if, manufactured on a large scale. That's because the material uses carbon nanotubes, which are lighter, easy to manufacture and most importantly cheaper than the current product that incorporates a rare and expensive semiconductor called Bismuth Telluride.
Besides personal gadgets, the researchers believe that Power Felt could be layered under roof tiles, wrapped around hot pipes and even, placed around emergency flashlights so that they would never lose charge.
The best part is that unlike other similar futuristic products, Power Felt is ready to be commercialized and the researchers are already talking to potential investors. Meanwhile, they are working on making it even more efficient, by adding additional nanotubes that are even tinier, so that the resulting fabric is thinner, but even more powerful then what is currently available. We don't know about you, but being able to charge our smart phone by simply holding or sitting on it, sounds kind of cool and even, a little magical!
Resources: cnet.com, gizmag.com.