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German researchers work on developing next generation smart textiles

13 Jan '22
3 min read
Pic: Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology
Pic: Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology

Researchers from the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (IPHT) in Jena, Germany, are in the process of developing a self-sufficient energy supply based on textiles. In this manner, it will become even easier in the future to supply mobile electronic devices worn close to the body with energy, even when no external power supply is available.

Smart textiles use the warmth emitted by the human body and convert it into electricity. Their cooling properties make the new materials interesting for safety-relevant applications and at the same time ensure increased wearing comfort and well-being, Leibniz Institute said in a press release.

Miniaturised electronic devices worn on the body, so-called wearables, check vital functions, count steps or provide information about traffic and weather. In order to continuously supply these technical companions with power, researchers at Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT), together with a team from ITP in Weimar, Germany, and the textile manufacturer E. CIMA in Spain, have developed a material that supplies the required energy independently of external power sources: Modern, intelligent textiles convert body warmth into electricity using thermoelectric effects, which can be stored in a battery.

“It is our vision to use textile materials for energy generation. Flexible, demand-oriented and environment-friendly, these smart fabrics can supply mobile devices for consumer electronics or health applications self-sufficient with energy. Smart watches or fitness bracelets are worn directly on the body and can thus be supplied with power at any time. Vital parameters can be, for example, measured and monitored continuously," explained Dr Jonathan Plentz, head of the Photonic Thin Film Systems research group at Leibniz IPHT.

For power generation researchers from Jena use thermoelectric generators, which convert the body's own warmth into electrical energy. For this purpose, thin-film coatings in the form of aluminum-doped zinc oxide are applied to textile fabrics as a thermoelectric functional layer. The researchers were able to measure thermoelectric effects with outputs of up to 0.2 μW by means of temperature differences between the user's skin surface and the ambient temperature or by means of industrial waste heat. The electricity generated could be stored in a battery to meet the energy needs of electronic devices for health or sports. "This makes the energy supply of devices self-sufficient," says Dr Gabriele Schmid, project manager at Leibniz IPHT.

"Workers at blast furnaces are exposed to high levels of heat. Even after a short time, their body temperature rises significantly due to the surrounding heat. Intelligent cooling fabrics integrated into protective clothing can help to better regulate body temperature. In addition, the textile materials are characterised in particular by their air permeability, lightness and flexibility, which not only has a positive effect on thermal management, but also provides additional comfort in challenging working environments," explained Plentz.

Fibre2Fashion News Desk (RR)

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