Scientists from the University of Texas at Dallas and the Hanyang University in South Korea have developed high-tech yarns that generate electricity when stretched or twisted. Researchers describe “twistron” yarns and their possible applications, such as harvesting energy from the motion of ocean waves or from temperature fluctuations in the journal Science. When sewn into a shirt, these yarns served as a self-powered breathing monitor.
“The easiest way to think of twistron harvesters is, you have a piece of yarn, you stretch it, and out comes electricity,” said Dr Carter Haines, associate research professor in the Alan G MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute at UT Dallas and co-lead author of the article. The article also includes researchers from South Korea, Virginia Tech, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and China.
The yarns are constructed from carbon nanotubes, which are hollow cylinders of carbon 10,000 times smaller in diameter than a human hair. The researchers first twist-spun the nanotubes into high-strength, lightweight yarns. To make the yarns highly elastic, they introduced so much twist that the yarns coiled like an over-twisted rubber band.
In order to generate electricity, the yarns must be either submerged in or coated with an ionically conducting material, or electrolyte, which can be as simple as a mixture of ordinary table salt and water.