Your Pants Might Charge Your Phone One Day, Suggests New Tiny-Generator Study

Billing the breakthrough as the “world’s smallest electric generator,” scientists have found a way to translate kinetic energy into power using a material no thicker than a layer of atoms.  Researchers imagine that the bendable, stretchable material could be woven into clothing that might power body sensors, medical devices, or a phone in your pocket. The research is detailed in a paper from Columbia Engineering and Georgia Institute of Technology published in Naturepublished in Nature.

The development operates using the principle of piezoelectricity, or the production of energy from expanding or squeezing a substance. It’s a long-known effect that has been put to use in special flooring, for example, that converts foot traffic into electricity. (See related story: “Tiles May Help Shrink Carbon Footprint by Harnessing Pedestrian Power“)

The discovery announced Wednesday is the first time the piezoelectric effect has been observed in an atomically thin material, according to the researchers. The two-dimensional layer is made from molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), a compound currently used as a dry lubricant in engines, brakes, and even ski wax. (Vote and comment: What Energy Solution Should We Develop Next?)

“This adds another member to the family of piezoelectric materials for functional devices,” said Wenzhuo Wu, one of the study’s authors, in a news release. Other possible applications of the breakthrough, according to the release, include flexible electronics and robotics.

The paper is not the first iteration of the idea that, instead of carrying a charger for our portable devices, we might someday become the charger—or at least wear one. Previous innovations have imagined clothing that conducts electricity from a battery pack, wearable solar panels, flashlights powered by body heat, and pants with an embedded phone-charging plate.

What do you think? Are you ready to become a power source?

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