Researchers at the University of Bolton, led by Professor Elias Siores, are pioneering developments into 3D textile structures using piezoelectric energy harvesting fibers. The long term results could lead to energy harnessing carpets or mobile devices, like phones and tablets, being charged on the move. The research has just been published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, in the world’s leading academic journal, Energy and Environmental Science. The research carried out previously at Bolton demonstrates the development of continuous piezoelectric yarns which show high flexibility and high mechanical strength. This has now made it possible for piezoelectric fiber to be woven into intricate and complex structures, such as 3D spacer textiles, opening a new horizon for commercial applications.
The University of Bolton's Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC) post-doctoral research fellow, Dr. Navneet Soin, primary author of the paper commented: 'We believe that this is just the first step in the creation of true wearable energy harvesting structures which do not look and feel any different from the conventional fabrics and yet provide the highest level of functionality.'
The use of 3D textile structures has been around for decades in applications such as medical textiles and highly breathable sportswear. But Dr Soin says there have been no reports of the use of 3D textiles for piezoelectric energy harvesting. Flexible piezoelectric fibers can generate electricity by harnessing the energy created by an impact or movement, for example a footstep on a carpet, then converting that mechanical energy into electrical power.
Dr Soin added: 'The next step of the project is to focus on a couple of core applications and develop it from there. We envisage that with continued development in the area, we could be looking at actual commercial harvesters based on this technology in the next four to five years.'
The research work is collaborative between the University's Institute of Materials Research and Innovation (IMRI) and Institute for Renewable Energy and Environmental Technologies (IREET). This fiber and 3D structure developed will be taken to market by FibrLec, a new sustainable energy company working with the University to commercialize its innovative smart materials in renewable energy applications.
FibrLec Ltd. was formed recently by a University of Bolton graduate. The Institute for Renewable Energy and Environmental Technologies (IREET) and Institute for Materials Research and Innovation (IMRI) both at the University of Bolton are officially regarded as world leading centres for "smart material" science. Professors at the Centres have invented a piezoelectric photovoltaic fibre which is capable of converting energy from sunlight, wind and rain. This new FibrLec material, which is in the form of an extruded polymer, is being taken to market by FibrLec.
The proceeds from commercialization will support scholarships and bursaries for students in need of financial support to study in science, technology and maths (STEM) at the University. They will also contribute to expanding the technological advances in IMRI and IREET. The initial and on-going research into the energy harvesting piezoelectric fibre has been carried out by On Campus Provost and Director of Research, Prof Elias Siores and his team.
"Our vision is to be a market leader in delivering sustainable energy solutions. Thereby we will transform the energy business beyond recognition through harnessing the creativity, knowledge and innovation of one of the world’s leading material science institutes. Above all we will create value from technical excellence, commented Daniel Keating – Managing Director FibrLec.
"In the next 3 years we will move from the position of being a new entrant to the market to being one of the global leaders in extruded polymers for energy harvesting and its commercial application. Our clients will include the solar panel industry, whose businesses will be transformed by our product; new sectors including wearable rechargeables to the outdoor pursuits market will be brought to the consumer; and medical non-surgical interventions which transform lives through harnessing polymer nanotechnology will evolve" continued Dr. Anthony Keating, Technical Director, "In the domestic and commercial markets, soft fabrics which bring down energy bills dramatically will become common place. They all share one modern heritage, that of the FibrLec Brand, and our passion for creating value from technical excellence," Dr. Keating stated.
"It is so gratifying seeing the technology moving from concept a few years ago to prototype and from laboratory to local industry. The smart flexible fiber is multifunctional in that it is able to convert energy from the sun, wind and rain into useable electrical energy, yet strong, durable and inexpensive to produce. Both piezoelectric and photovoltaic technologies are embedded into the fiber structure. The intellectual property generated has been patented internationally and has won a number of international awards," concluded Professor Siores.