Nanotube fabric could let you charge your phone by walking
Wake Forest graduate student Corey Hewitt works with a sample of thermoelectric fabric in the school's Nanotechnology lab.
March 30th, 2012
08:25 AM ET

Nanotube fabric could let you charge your phone by walking

By Doug Gross, CNN

What if you could power up your smartphone with just a brisk walk?

That’s the promise of Power Felt, a new creation of nanotechnology researchers at Wake Forest University.

It’s a fabric, made up of tiny carbon nanotubes locked in flexible plastic fibers, that uses temperature differences to create a charge.

So, for example, you could slap a strip of it onto the back of your phone and hold it in your hand or stick it in your pocket while you walked. Since your body heat would be higher than the temperature outside, it would create one of those differentials and the felt would siphon off that extra heat, turning it into electrical power.

“Heat is all around you,” said David Carroll, Director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials. “Heat differentials are everywhere.”

He says all the energy that heat generates is wasted without a way to harness and move it. Enter Power Felt.

Carroll’s research is featured in the current issue of NanoLetters, a leading nanotechnology journal. He says the product isn’t quite ready for market, but that the center is currently courting investors to help get it there.

The felt probably isn’t ready to charge a phone all the way. But a regular day’s activity could add an hour or so to its battery life, Carroll said.

“If you’re at the airport and your phone’s dead and you’re trying to get your wife on the phone to come get you, what you’re concerned about is being able to make that one extra call,” he said.

Other uses could include using the heat inside a car to power its battery, lining solar panels to help them soak in even more of the sun’s rays, or lining emergency kits to power flashlights, radios and other tools.

When reversed, the nanotubes can also move heat away, producing a cooling effect that could be helpful for medical care.

“We’re going to go further and further with this,” Carroll said.

The practice of taking research from a university lab and trying to market it is one that’s relatively recent, he said. But more and more, Carroll said he’s seeing academic work moving from the theoretical to the practical without the new technology needing to change hands.

“Science can make a difference; science can solve stuff,” he said. “It’s not that basic science has goine away, but it is fascinating when you get into this kind of development of technology, and I see more and more of that happening.”

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Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. burnouttx

    Cool, lets cover all of our fat ed kids with this stuff and they walk around and keep their tweeting texting obsessions all charged up and lose weight. But seriously, I would not mind this stuff. Living out in the middle of nowhere. If power goes out and my cell phone is dead, it's a very long drive to the nearest pay phone.

    July 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  2. iyun,may,mart

    Somebody necessarily help to make significantly posts I might state. This is the first time I frequented your web page and so far? I surprised with the research you made to create this actual submit extraordinary. Great job!

    June 26, 2012 at 1:05 am | Reply
  3. truthier

    I got it, let's use people as batteries!

    June 7, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Reply
  4. smather2175

    Works on some of the same principles that a Sterling Engine uses where a difference in temperatures can drive a piston which in turn drives a generator and produces electrical current. Where the temperature is higher, gas/liquids/anything expands. Where the temperature is lower, gas/liquids/anything contracts. Applying these physics a Sterling engine uses the expansion and contraction of a liquid (water) as a piston that turns a drive shaft. It requires no other external energy source to work such as electricity, muscle power, etc. You can build a sterling engine by just using the difference in temperature of the cool underground and the surface heat from the sun. Google 'Sterling Engine.' It's quite remarkable and you have to wonder why this isn't used more.

    June 6, 2012 at 9:57 am | Reply
    • Peltier

      It's actually almost entirely unrelated to a Stirling engine. In fact the only similarity is that they both use temperature differentials to generate other forms of energy. This technology utilizes the thermoelectric effect. The devices that utilize this effect are commonly known as peltier elements. This is just a very thin version of one. The larger one are often used for cooling high-performance computer CPUs. Also why would you use thermal energy to generate mechanical energy to generate electrical energy? Why not just skip the middle man?

      July 18, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • Cak

      Jun11Yekralc17 I've got most of it down, great tutorial Kina Just the piikcng on the D, do you pluck the 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings, or 4th, 2nd and 1st? It looks like you're plucking the 3rd but the other sounds more accurate, or maybe my guitar's just out of tune

      September 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  5. Nick

    sounds good. anyone know when this will be for sale anywhere? don't have an iPhone but should be able to work for an iPod touch right?

    June 6, 2012 at 12:05 am | Reply
  6. RugDumplin

    Sparky Sanchez!

    June 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  7. Sharon

    So when do we develop this into something I can put on my car to power it?

    June 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply
  8. Greg

    Its not actually heat that generates power.. It is heat flow from hotter to colder. I don't think this will be of much use right now for people that have access to a power outlet – however, it could be very useful for someone – like a backpacker – who does not.

    May 25, 2012 at 3:20 am | Reply
    • BK

      Or during a disaster when the power grid is down.

      May 25, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Reply
    • Bekky

      Thanks Bryant I did not know this. It is always nice to catch up on the Church History. I also find it iirteestnng that two future Presidents of the Church were with Joseph when he was martyred too.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  9. Khurram

    In players crtaee a character and adventure through the , missions, blowing things up and , bullets, to name but a few things. Generally , if you've seen it in a matrix film chances are you can do it in the game. This is excellent news for the vast mob of people who have always wanted to experience the matrix and do their part in helping the people of Zion. Or even for those people who were secretly sympathetic to the Machines, or those who found the Merovingian charming and were secretly rooting for his Exiles throughout the film.

    May 1, 2012 at 3:02 am | Reply
  10. Turkish Jobs

    We at think this is a good idea, im sure this will be the next big thing after slice bread

    April 30, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
    • Neel

      Dont you mean Naan Bread?

      June 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  11. Link

    So he is making magic? Awesome!

    April 16, 2012 at 10:20 am | Reply
    • larryjamesendland

      "science can solve stuff"

      June 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  12. Ed

    So this article is saying that fat, sweaty people are responsible for global warming?

    Couldn't resist. Seriously though, this looks really promising. Hopefully it can take off.

    April 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  13. Kang

    Clothes that generate an electrical charge to power personal electronics are already in development for the army in the UK, though I believe they are based on much cheaper, much simpler, and much more market-ready technology.

    April 8, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply
    • George

      Like AAA Duracells?

      July 18, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  14. Dewey

    Welcome aboard copper top.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  15. jason

    Put it on IPad to cool it down!

    April 3, 2012 at 3:06 am | Reply
  16. Elton j. Lenon

    Its a good idea from the developers and i hope that it will be sucessful. But how many time will it happen and when will be avaiable to people from Brazil? Hugs!

    April 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Earthangel

      Getachew Ababu Posted on I am Getachew Ababu from Ethiopia,who is eager to have educational onrtptupioy, in any masters level of public health. So please help accordingly. I have 1st degree in nursing from one of goverment universities in Ethiopia. I THANK U ! Here is my adress e-mail ; (Phone +251911771106.

      September 26, 2012 at 12:08 am | Reply
  17. PG

    A bit late with this idea as populations especially city dwellers walk less and less

    April 1, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Reply
    • Tom

      Actually it may even work out better. There is substantial heat generated by a couch potato. Put a phone in your butt crack and that phone will charge in no time.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
  18. FrostLT

    This would be good for America; the number of obese people would diminish.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Reply
    • Mr Sparkle

      Nah, we'd just pay someone to walk aorund and charge it for us.

      April 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  19. FauxNews

    And, if someone is having a heart attack, you can just throw water on their shirt to revive them with a shock.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • Dewey

      Good idea! A wearable AED! I can see sitting next to someone on a bus and hearing "stand by, shock delivered".

      April 5, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
    • Gopi

      Upps, hade te4nkt skriva mer..Iom att det ste5r opiotnal antar jag att man me5ste kf6pa ne5n extra moje4ng ff6r att det ska funka med IR.Men vem vet. Den har inte sle4ppts e4nnu, se5 de kan fortfarande e4ndra sig.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am | Reply

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