Scientists at the University of Bath have created nylon fibers capable of generating electricity

Date posted: 28/12/2020


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Photo by Katharina Maisenbacher, Max Planck Academy.

Researchers from the University of Bath, the Max Planck Polymer Research Institute (MPI-P) and the University of Coimbra have been producing electrically-generated nylon fibers from simple body movements, opening up a method of making pine clothing Intelligent monitoring of health through miniature sensors and the ability to charge devices without any external power source. This discovery is based on a study of liquid-treated piezoelectric nylon fibers by Professor Kamal Asadi, former team leader at MPI-P and now professor of physics at Bath and former graduate student Saleem Anwar. His head.

Piezoelectric is the phenomenon of mechanical energy converted into electricity. When a person touches or distorts piezoelectric material, it creates an electric charge. If a circuit is added to store charge as a capacitor and then use that power source - for example, to power a cell phone.

When wearing piezoelectric clothing, such as a shirt, even a simple movement such as swinging the wearer's arm can cause the fibers of the garment to be altered enough to generate electricity.

"There is a growing demand for smart, electronic textiles, but finding cheap and readily available electronic raw fibers suitable for modern apparel is a challenge for the textile industry," said Asadi. sewing. Piezoelectric materials are good candidates for capturing energy from mechanical vibrations, such as body movement, but most of these materials contain lead, which is not suitable for integration in devices. with electronics in hand or in clothing ”.

Scientists have known the piezoelectric properties of nylon since the 1980s, and the fact that the material does not contain lead and is non-toxic makes it especially attractive. However, the soft, man-made fabric commonly associated with women's t-shirts and socks is "a very difficult material to handle," Mr. Asadi said.

"The most difficult thing is to prepare nylon fibers that can retain their piezoelectric properties," he said.

In its crude polymer form, nylon is a white powder that can be blended with other materials (natural or artificial) and then molded into a multitude of products, from clothing and toothbrush bristles. to food packaging and car parts. When nylon is reduced to a specific crystal, it becomes a piezoelectric material. The established method for making these nylon crystals is to melt, cool quickly, and then stretch. However, this process produces thick sheets (called ‘membrane’) that are piezoelectric but not suitable for clothes. The nylon will need to be stretched into yarn to weave into clothing, or into a thin film for use in electronic devices. The challenge of producing thin piezoelectric nylon films was deemed insurmountable, leading to research in this area largely to a halt in the 1990s.

From this idea, Asadi and Anwar - textile engineers - took a whole new approach to the production of piezoelectric nylon films. They dissolved the nylon powder in an acid solvent instead of melting it. However, they found that the finished film contained solvent molecules locked inside the material, thereby preventing piezoelectric phase formation.

"We need to find a way to get rid of the acid to make the nylon usable," said Asadi, who started the study at the Max Planck Polymer Research Institute in Germany before moving to Bath in September.

By chance, they discovered that by mixing an acid solution with acetone (paint thinner or nail polish remover), they were able to dissolve the nylon and then efficiently extract the acid, leaving the nylon film behind. in the piezoelectric phase.

"The acetone binds very strongly to the acid molecules, so when the acetone evaporates from the nylon solution, it carries the acid." What you have left is nylon in its piezoelectric crystal phase. The next step is to turn nylon into yarn and then integrate it into the fabric, ”the scientist said.

The development of piezoelectric fibers is an important step towards the production of electronic textiles with clear applications in the field of wearable electronics. The goal is to integrate electronic elements, such as sensors, into a fabric and generate electricity as the wearer moves. Chances are, the electricity obtained from the fibers of piezoelectric clothing will be stored in a battery in a pocket. This pin will then connect to the device via cable or wirelessly.

"In the coming years, we may use our T-shirts to power a device like cell phones when we walk in the woods or to monitor our health," said Asadi.

Translation: Nguyen Thi Hong Lien



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