One of the problems we face is that energy needs to be renewed constantly. As we use more mobile electronics, we find ourselves depending on portable energy resources to deliver more power to our valued electronic partners. Being connected requires power and power is limited. Scientific explorations into new modes of energy are being funded and, one day, you may actually use a tablet for days instead of hours.
For all the electronics we love, power when mobile is and always will be significant. Without power, all those wondrous mobile gadgets would turn to paperweights. Having iPad chargers, iPhone and phone chargers, camera battery chargers, computer chargers, and audio chargers. Some charge batteries while others charge the gadgets themselves. The key advantages of these are to extend mobile use from a few hours to many more hours. No mobile user should be without one.
Researchers are making advances in seeking methods to provide alternative energy sources. One remarkable way would come from the clothes we wear.
More mobile products are getting smarter and are integrating lots of devices and large screens, downloads, and more are draining batteries and power. The University of South Carolina’s Xiaodong Li envisions even further integration of the cell phone — and just about every electronic gadget, for that matter — into our lives.
He sees a future where electronics are part of our wardrobe.
Li is helping make the vision a reality. He and post-doctoral associate Lihong Bao have just reported in the journal Advanced Materials how to turn the material in a cotton T-shirt into a source of electrical power.
Starting with a T-shirt from a local discount store, Li’s team soaked it in a solution of fluoride, dried it and baked it at high temperature. They excluded oxygen in the oven to prevent the material from charring or simply combusting.
The surfaces of the resulting fibers in the fabric were shown by infrared spectroscopy to have been converted from cellulose to activated carbon. Yet the material retained flexibility; it could be folded without breaking.
Eventually, sometime in the future, dressing for power may have several different meanings.
A few thousand miles away, scientists are trying to make circuits of cell phones far more efficient. Today’s cell phones WiFi-enabled tablets and other electronic gadgets all use microwave oscillators, tiny devices that generate the electrical signals used in communications. In a cell phone, for example, the transmitter and receiver circuits contain oscillators that produce radio-frequency signals, which are then converted by the phone’s antenna into incoming and outgoing electromagnetic waves.
Researchers have discovered yet another way to harvest small amounts of electricity from motion in the world around us – this time by capturing the electrical charge produced when two different kinds of plastic materials rub against one another. Based on flexible polymer materials, this “triboelectric” generator could provide alternating current (AC) from activities such as walking.
The triboelectric generator operates when a sheet of polyester rubs against a sheet made of polydimethysiloxane (PDMS). The polyester tends to donate electrons, while the PDMS accepts electrons. Immediately after the polymer surfaces rub together, they are mechanically separated, creating an air gap that isolates the charge on the PDMS surface and forms a dipole moment. While this may appear a little far-out, triboelectricity can be generated from new types of touchscreens. The possibilities of using a touchscreen device might, one day, allow renewable energy to allow longer power for a device.
At this point, chargers are the best way to extend the power of your mobile devices. Sometime in the future, we may discover energy sources that will allow smartphone and tablet users virtually automatic electric flow.