Thermoelectric Fabric

david carroll - wake forest universityResearchers have managed to make a flexible, inexpensive energy-producing fabric that can be used in clothing or covering any surface (like inside the walls of your house, as an outer layer to use heat escaping your house).  Traditional thermoelectric devices have been too rigid (and expensive) for this, so this is a pretty big deal.  It’s not that efficient, but it doesn’t need to be when it’s cheap and can cover large areas.  Power production is around one milliwatt per square centimeter, so you might get a watt or two from clothing made with this – but that would go a long ways towards charging your iPhone, for example.  As a bonus feature, it’s piezoactive, meaning that energy is created when the material is flexed.  The first products made from this material might hit the market as soon as next year.

(read more at Business Insider)

The PowerPot

Here’s a cool gadget that’s a bit counter to the ‘keep it simple’ philosophy.  It’s a thermoelectric device buried under a pot, designed for backpacking use to charge your iPhone and other gadgets (you’re not really keeping it simple if you’re depending on those while backpacking!).  So if you really can’t leave those gadgets behind when backpacking, this is the perfect solution to ensure they’re always fully charged.  The alternative would be solar panels, though if you assume that you’ll be making a campfire regardless, then this might be more reliable than counting on sunshine.  The inventors are currently seeking funding at Kickstarter; cost is $125.

Flexible Thermoelectric Fabric

Thermoelectric devices have been around for a long time, and offer the awesome ability of converting a heat difference (one side of the device cold, the other hot) into electrical energy – or reversing the process and using electricity to create that thermal difference (great for car-powered refrigerators, for example).  Now, researchers at Wake Forest University have taken this basic technology and transformed it into a multi-layer, flexible felt-like fabric.  Possible applications could include wearable electronics (though the ambient air temperature needs to be significantly lower than body temperature), or simple things like wrapping pipes in this.

Portable electronics have always struggled with their power sources, with design having been a tradeoff between storage capacity and size/weight/cost.  Being able to generate energy on the move would be a big benefit.

Read more on this over at Design News.

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