New ‘Power Felt’ Could Charge Your Phone with Body Heat

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Wake Forest

Tired of your smartphone running out of juice while you’re out on the town? In the future, you might be able to charge it by plugging it into your jacket or pants — well, if they happen to be made of Power Felt.

The new material was developed by Wake Forest’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Material. It works by using temperature differences — say, between the temperature outside on a cold day and the heat generated by your body — to create an electric charge.

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A hypothetical pair of Power Felt pants would be made of tiny carbon nanotubes contained in flexible plastic fibers. According to Wake Forest, the fabric could also be used to line car seats, insulate pipes or collect heat under roof tiles.

It’s all part of a field called thermoelectrics, which has been around for awhile, but traditionally very expensive, costing as much as $1,000 per kilogram. The researchers at Wake Forest hope to get the price down to $1 for enough fabric to cover an item such as a cellphone cover.

Graduate student Corey Hewitt has high hopes for the material:

I imagine being able to make a jacket with a completely thermoelectric inside liner that gathers warmth from body heat, while the exterior remains cold from the outside temperature. If the Power Felt is efficient enough, you could potentially power an iPod, which would be great for distance runners. It’s pretty cool to think about, and it’s definitely within reach.

The trick, of course, is to make clothing that someone might actually want to wear. Researchers have been toying with photovoltaic fabrics for awhile, but so far almost every piece of solar-powered clothing has featured stiff, photovoltaic strips that only someone in a bad sci-fi movie would put on. But Power Felt sweat pants? That just might work.

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