[Researcher of the Month] Producing Energy by Wearing Clothes
Professor Hong Jin-pyo (Department of Physics)
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Clothes that create electricity is not something in a movie anymore. In the midst of searching for various renewable energy, Professor Hong Jin-pyo (Department of Physics) created a new energy source that is created through friction in a single thread, as demonstrated in his research, ‘Hierarchically Nanostructured 1D Conductive Bundle Yarn-Based Triboelectric Nanogenerators.’
When designing a wearable device, people generally think of light and slim devices attached on one’s clothes or body, usually charged by a solar heat system. This is referred as a two-dimension technology, as an object is placed upon another object. This does have its own benefits but also contains deficits such as weight and energy sources. Therefore, Hong created a one-dimension energy source – a thread that is used when weaving clothes. “Once a material is attached to clothing, the efficiency lacks uniformity,” explained Hong. He invented a thread that can produce energy itself, without having to attach anything onto a particular piece of clothing. The threads that make up the clothing could create energy itself.
This thread, also named as a ‘triboelectric nanogenerator’, is a structure made from the notion of friction that we experience in our daily lives. For example, when we rub a balloon to our hair, friction occurs, resulting in a form of spiky hair. This phenomenon occurs when an electron is moved from one object to another, when these two objects continuously collide with each other. Depending on the characteristics of an object, one object would lose electrons and the other would gain electrons, meaning some sort of slight energy is formed. In this thread, polymer and aluminum are used; the former collects the electrons and the latter releases the electrons. Therefore, once the body wearing the clothing weaved from this thread moves, energy is created.
This triboelectric nanogenerator is still in the midst of its research. As this thread is extremely thin, Hong’s research team created a conductive bundle yarn so that they could have more strength. Moreover, he attached polymer-like nanostructures onto a single thread, so that the thread could have an increased surface area of energy production. Once energy is created through a larger surface area, bigger energy could be created within a single thread. This whole process is also known as a tribo electric effect.
This one-dimension thread has a bright future in front of them, as technology closer to human are fondly being conducted on. “Once a sensor could be attached onto the thread, even more tasks could be done. This sensor could send whatever information they require to the owner’s smartphone, once the sensor adapts a Bluetooth function,” commented Hong, when asked about the future of this invention. He wished that this function would be able to let citizens to have control of their IoT (Internet of Things, a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, object, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers) through their energy producing clothes.
As Hong has not majored in clothing and textiles, he is not yet an expert of clothing, but has not been afraid of pioneering this area. “I had been proceeding my research in semiconductors at first. As new technologies evolved, I believed it was important to keep up with these changes to improve what I have been initially doing,” reminisced Hong. As he had achieved an unexpected success through his passion, he also gave the same advice to all Hanyangians. “Don’t make excuses. What really matters is whether you tried your best or not. I wish all of you can improve yourself through endless challenges!”
On Jung-yun email@example.com
Photos by Choi Min-ju and Lee Jin-myung
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