In the Future, Your Clothing Will Harvest Energy From Raindrops and Sunlight
No matter how futuristic-looking solar panels (or solar-powered cars) are, you can't get past the fact that they generally don't work when it's raining. For large parts of the world, including the US and England, rain beats out shine for several months of the year, so what's the solution? Rain and sun-powered generators, that's what.
Researchers from Soochow University in China have recently published a new paper on a device that combines a solar panel with a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG), which can generate power from the mechanical action of falling raindrops. The TENG is transparent and sits on top of the solar cell, protecting it from rain while also allowing light through. Here's how Zhen Wen, one of the co-authors of the paper, describes this new gadget:
"The biggest breakthrough in this work is that an integrated generator composed of a solar cell and a TENG was demonstrated through sharing a mutual electrode. Compared to previous work, the simple design of the mutual electrode reduces the number of functional layers, which greatly improves the output efficiency."
Because of the structure of the device, the solar panel and rain-powered nanogenerator can't work simultaneously, but its compact size and relative simplicity give it a unique advantage: it has the potential to be woven into clothing and used to power wearable electronics.
This isn't the first time someone has proposed electricity-generating clothing—a number of different companies, including Tommy Hilfiger, have tried in the past with limited success, though that's mostly because they were trying to mount solar panels on fabric. The idea of powering handheld devices with clothing isn't new either, but it's certainly a fascinating one—in an age where everyone's life is tied to their phone, a portable, all-weather jacket-generator sounds like a million-dollar idea.
If you're still confused about how raindrops can create power at all, check out this short explanation on how triboelectric generators work.