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Humanizing Tech

"Introducing Energy 3.0" in Humanizing Tech

When it’s your body that charges your future cell phone

I. Overview

This ain’t your momma’s cotton commercial. In this episode we explore a new fabric that can use sun and wind to power devices and a new battery technology that’s much lighter and thinner. While the former helps charge your handheld devices, the latter might help get you from point A to B more efficiently.

Why do I call it Energy 3.0? Because we’re moving from fossil fuels (Energy 1.0) into clean energy. Things like solar power, water turbines, and wind farms (Energy 2.0).

As Elon says, “that giant fusion reactor in the sky” is one source of energy. But note that the further away you get from it, the harder it is to collect energy efficiently. Said differently, we don’t get as much of the sun’s energy on the surface of Mars as we do on the surface of the Earth.

But the last point, harvesting the mechanical energy from human motion, I think, is the truly novel innovation. Because we eat food, our bodies transfer that food into electrical energy, and we then use that energy to power our brains for thought and our bodies for motion.

That’s Energy 3.0.

Automatic watches have used the motion of our hands and arms to charge the watch and store energy in its springs for nearly a century.

We’ve now, for the first time ever, been able to weave a similar technology into fabric. You could use this fabric for clothing to charge personal devices or into tents to charge your devices while camping.

II. T-Shirt Charging

If your t-shirt can harvest energy from both the sunshine and moving around, you could essentially plug that into your iPhone and charge it while you walk. This, of course, isn’t a new concept but the engineering has proven difficult for some time.

A new paper released on Nature Energy describes how the team at Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science & Engineering did it. As you might imagine, they used a standard textile machine that many other big fabric manufacturers use to weave one fiber together with another. Only in this case, some of the “fibers” were machines.

To generate electricity using your own motion, the team focused on something called the triboelectric effect, which is just a fancy way to say static electricity. You know how you rub a balloon against your head and your hair seems to be attracted to it magnetically? Yep, that’s this concept.

So they used special fibers (polymers to be specific) and a super tiny generator to store this static electricity for later use.

The second part of this is how they capture solar energy. They used a combination of small wires and electrodes. The sun excites the electrons on the electrodes embedded in a t-shirt, for instance, and that electricity then flows along the wire to be stored as energy for later use.

Incidentally, a similar process is used for artificial photosynthesis, whereby the sun splits water into its component pieces (H20 into Hydrogen and Oxygen). Solar energy is then stored as Hydrogen for use later as fuel.

Isn’t science fun?

So basically, humanity has now transformed a t-shirt into a leaf. I suppose that gives new meaning, and a new marketing campaign, to Fruit of the Loom.

So how efficient is this technology in generating power? You might think it would be too small to be practical. But the researchers did an experiment where they took a small section of this fabric and put it on a stick out a moving car window.

It allowed the “t-shirt” to collect both the solar energy and static electricity.

This new technology generated 2 volts in 1 minute using a 4 centimeter piece of fabric.

That’s enough to power a single LED. Don’t know what an LED is? It’s what lights up your digital clock or wristwatch, TVs, and even some cell phones. How big is 4 centimeters? It’s about the length of your thumb.

So, to put that into context, if your pants and shirt were made out of this special energy fabric, it would likely be enough to power your cell phone screen while you’re moving around and getting sunlight.

III. New Battery Tech

If you couple this fabric energy harvesting with a new battery technology, it might mean that someday we’d be able to collect gobs of energy and then store even more of it in our clothes. No need for a back-up charger in your bag to go chase Pokemon. You’re wearing it, man.

A company that came out of MIT, Solid Energy Systems, have found a way to make one of the main components of batteries significantly thinner and lighter. See the right hand side of the image below.

They’re working on cell phone batteries first, coming in 2017, but then will move onto drones, cars, and other sorts of vehicles.

Self-driving cars, for instance, have to be electrically powered because you can’t control the brake pedals in a combustion engine gasoline-powered car. The brakes are mechanical, not controlled by software. And if you have an electric car, you need to store the electricity until the car is ready to use it. The more batteries you can fit into the car, and the lighter they are, the farther you can drive on a single charge. That’s as important on Earth as it is on Mars.

The same thing applies to our t-shirts above. The more efficient the battery that stores the energy from sunlight and motion, the better our devices stay powered up.

And, as I predicted in the article linked to below, I think this will ultimately roll up into self-driving cars. Our car roofs will have solar panels on them, as well as our clothes have solar panels embedded within them. We will generate energy from the motion by our bodies, both in clothing and in smart sidewalks that depress slightly as we step on them. On doors as we push them. And with all the objects we interact with. We will not waste the energy our bodies create from food.

As food becomes more scarce due to population growth and climate change, and as we move to becoming an interplanetary species, we need to collect and store as much energy as we can if we want to survive.

You are the energy generator of the future, my friend.

— Sean

Read More

Apple & Tesla Are Building Solar Paneled Car Roofs


Introducing Energy 3.0 was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Read the responses to this story on Medium.



from Stories by Sean Everett on Medium http://ift.tt/2dpEcNx