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As new technologies often do, this sounds like something out of a sci-fi blockbuster: fabric that can soak up energy like a sponge, creating electricity just by being worn or left in the sun.
But that’s what nanotechnologist David Carroll is working on at Wake Forest University and already testing out at home, Business Insider says. The quickest way to explain it might be with a hypothetical use described in Carroll’s own words:
So I hop in my car and my phone battery is running low. I’m going to drive from here down to Raleigh (North Carolina) which is about an hour and a half. I set this [square of fabric attached to his phone] on my dashboard, the car vibrates — that generates power. And the dashboard’s hot — that also generates power. From both of those sources I collect additional power and soak that power into my battery. By the time I get into Raleigh my battery has about a 20 percent charge on it.
The fabric is lightweight, flexible, washable, and feels like felt. Carroll imagines it could be sewn into clothing, applied to electronics, and wrapped around houses to generate extra electricity.
It’s not efficient enough to replace traditional power sources, but it’s so cheap to make that it doesn’t really matter – it’s essentially free extra power. Carroll says enough fabric to cover a laptop would cost no more than a quarter, and he thinks it could be brought to market by next year.
It would be especially useful in situations where power wasn’t readily available – such as camping or during a natural disaster. Placing a smartphone with a case using the fabric a safe distance from a heat source overnight could fully charge it.