[Image above] Credit: Bart Heird; Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

We’re all familiar with the modern inconvenience of being tethered to the wall by a power cord.

Watching the battery on your smartphone drain to ten percent is sort of like watching the needle on the fuel gauge creep mercilessly toward empty on a long stretch of highway without a gas station in sight—it incites anxiety and sheer, unadulterated panic.

Maybe that’s a little bit dramatic, but I feel like I’m at a major disadvantage if my smartphone is out of commission. No GPS, no lunch spot recommendations, no quick answers to hotly debated pop culture trivia questions with friends. It’s imperative that my phone is juiced up and ready to perform at all times.

And while gadgets that boost smartphone battery life have hit the consumer tech market to help widen the gap between power cord wall sits, it’s not a solution to total wireless recharging on the go.

But thanks to materials science, our power chargers for smartphones and wearable tech might be sewn right into our pants someday.

Check out the latest research and innovations in this area:

New fabric offers ‘static’ solution to energy generation that could charge small electronics.


Materials scientists at Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea created a double-layer fabric out of commercially available silver-coated woven textiles that converts the energy from body motion into electricity to power electronics.

The new energy-generating textile relies on the triboelectric effect, the same phenomenon that produces static electricity.

“A plain, silver-coated textile is used as one layer. For the other layer, they grew 100-nm-wide zinc oxide nanorods on the woven textile fibers and coated the rods with polydimethylsiloxane. The nanorods increase the contact area on this second layer, leading to greater friction between the two layers as they rub against each other, which boosts the power output of the device,” according to a Chemical & Engineering News article about the research.

Sang-Woo Kim, materials scientist at Sungkyunkwan University, says in the article that this device is cost-effective and relatively simple to make, and it can be incorporated not just into clothing, but other energy-harvesting technologies like solar cells.

The research, published in ACS Nano, is “Nanopatterned textile-based wearable triboelectric nanogenerator” (DOI: 10.1021/nn507221f).


‘Electric eel’ fibers could provide a shocking answer to wireless charging.


Stretchable fibers that mimic electric eels to generate high-output voltage could be woven into clothing to power next-generation wearable technology, according to an article published earlier this year from scientists at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.

“These novel energy-storage devices are flexible, stretchable, and weavable fibers, which satisfies the needs of next-generation portable and wearable electronics. The devices are fabricated via a continuous fabrication technology to effectively power electronic watches and light-emitting diodes as two examples,” according to the abstract.

The article, published in Advanced Materials, is “Electrochemical capacitors with high output voltages that mimic electric eels” (DOI: 10.1002/adma.201505742).


Titanium threads might provide a tailored power source for electronics on the go.


Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, have developed flexible wire-shaped microsupercapacitors that can be woven into clothing, according to a university press release.

While streamlined wearable tech continues to make progress, there’s still significant work to be done to make less obtrusive and cumbersome power sources, says Liming Dai, Kent Hale Smith Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering at Case Western.

“The area of clothing is fixed, so to generate the power density needed in a small area, we grew radially-aligned titanium oxide nanotubes on a titanium wire used as the main electrode,” Dai says in the release. “By increasing the surface area of the electrode, you increase the capacitance.”

The research, published in Energy Storage Materials, is “Flexible and wearable wire-shaped microsupercapacitors based on highly aligned titania and carbon nanotubes” (DOI: 10.1016/j.ensm.2015.11.004).


What do you think about the future fabric-based chargers? Gives a whole new meaning to the power of giving someone the shirt off your back…