The fibers use the same mechanical principle as a self-winding watch but on a scale measured in billionths of a meter. Nano-generators are able to use energy from sound waves, vibrations and even the human heart to create useable electricity. The fibers are covered with pairs of zinc oxide nano-wires that produce tiny pulses of electricity in response to friction.
The fibers were developed by a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology, led by Zhong Lin Wang.
“The two fibers scrub together just like two bottle brushes with their bristles touching,” converting the mechanical motion into electrical energy, explained Wang.
“Many of the devices could be put together to produce a higher output,” he said.
The nano-fibers use the “piezoelectric effect”, which is the method of generating power from friction.
There is one slight problem with the nano-fibers. They are coated with zinc oxide, which is sensitive to water. Any clothes made from them couldn’t be washed. If you power your cell phone with a shirt made of this stuff you won’t be very popular in the office. But if your cell phone battery never ran down it might be worth the tradeoff.