File this under “cool but hard to imagine:”
Scientists have developed a way to generate electricity by jostling fabric with unbelievably tiny wires woven inside, raising the prospect of textiles that produce power simply by being stretched, rustled or ruffled by a breeze.
The research, described in today’s edition of the journal Nature, combines the precision of ultra-small nanotechnology with the elegant principle known as the piezoelectric effect, in which electricity is generated when pressure is applied to certain materials.
While the piezoelectric effect has been understood at least as far back as the 19th century, it is getting creative new looks now, as concerns about energy supplies are inspiring quests for alternative power sources.
For example, a Japanese railway has experimented with mats, placed under turnstiles, that translate the pressure from thousands of commuters’ footfalls into usable power. French scientists have proposed capturing energy from raindrops hitting a structure with piezoelectric properties.
I’ll try hard to keep the wisecracks to myself, though do have to wonder aloud if higher friction is the one silver lining in our nation’s obesity epidemic.
Whenever I read about these kinds of experiments I have three thoughts:
- Damn, we really are an enterprising species. We spend so much mental energy, time, financial and material resources in creating junk that we don’t really need or harms ourselves and the planet (see nuclear weapons, chicken mcnuggets, dog jewelry) but we can also pretty quickly harness that creativity and ingenuity into incredible advances (see the internet, human genome project, cradle to cradle design).
- What are the odds of this actually becoming a widely adopted solution? In this case, the fact that they use gold as a conduit doesn’t seem particularly scalable to me.
- No matter if the vast majority of these things fail, this just proves once again why we need to be investing far more of our collective resources into research and development.