Smart fabrics and interactive textiles (SFIT) are defined as textiles that are able to sense stimuli from the environment and react or adapt to them in a predetermined way. For example, smart textiles/garments can incorporate sensors/actuators, processing and communications for use in applications such as health monitoring, consumer products and in the automotive sector. Smart fabrics and interactive textiles represent the next generation of fabrics and the potential opportunities for exploiting them are enormous. During recent involvement with the textiles community and talking in particular to developers of smart fabrics and intelligent clothing, it has become clear that a major obstacle towards integrating electronic functionality into fabrics is the portable power supply required. For example, whilst conductive tracks can be printed onto, or conductive yarns woven into, a fabric, the power supply for any integrated device is presently a standard battery. This requires conventional connection and must be repeatedly replaced and removed during washing. No matter how integrated the functionality of the fabric becomes, at present there is no alternative to powering the system using discrete batteries.
Energy harvesting (also known as energy scavenging) is concerned with the conversion of ambient energy present in the environment into electricity. Energy Harvesting is now a significant research topic with conferences such as PowerMEMS, IEEE MEMS, Transducers, DTIP and Eurosensors featuring at least one session on the subject. Energy harvesters do not have the energy density (energy stored for a given volume) of a battery but offer the attraction of an integrated power supply that will last the lifetime of the application and will not require recharging or replacement. This project will focus on harvesting energy from two sources: kinetic and thermal energy all of which have been identified as promising approaches for powering mobile electronics.
- Kinetic Energy Harvesting - For example, there is a large amount of kinetic energy available from human motion. Human motion characterised by large amplitude, low frequency movements that can also exert large forces. It has been estimated that 67W of energy are available in each step .
- Thermal Energy Harvesting - Harvesting of energy from heat sources (such as the human body) can be achieved by the conversion of thermal gradients to electrical energy using the Seebeck effect. There has been interest in the generation of power from body heat as a means to power wearable devices. For example Seiko have produced a wrist watch powered by body heat. Reported results for power densities achieved from micro-fabricated devices are 0.14 microW/mm^2 from a 700 mm^2 device for a temperature difference of 5 K, which is typically achievable for wearable applications.
The proposal involves using rapid printing processes and active printed inks to achieve energy harvesting fabrics. This will result in a low cost, easy to design, flexible and rapid way to realise energy harvesting textiles/garments. Both inkjet and screen printed are fully accepted processes widely used in the textile industry for depositing patterns. The proposed screen and inkjet printing processes have many benefits including low-cost, repeatability, flexibility, suitability for small/medium series and mass production, short development time, compatibility with a wide range of textiles and the capability of depositing a wide range of materials. The inks and associated printing parameters will be researched to enable the bespoke design and layout of the energy harvesting films in the application being addressed. The research will provide a toolbox of materials and processes suitable for a range of different fabrics that enable a user to develop the energy harvesting fabric best suited to their requirements.