Power Felt is a new thermoelectric device developed by researchers at the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest University. By touching a small piece, body heat is converted into an electrical current. Comprised of carbon nanotubes locked up in flexible plastic fibers and made to feel like fabric, Power Felt uses temperature differences to create a charge.
“We waste a lot of energy in the form of heat. For example, recapturing a car’s energy waste could help improve fuel mileage and power the radio, air conditioning, or navigation system,” graduate student Corey Hewitt says. “Generally thermoelectrics are an underdeveloped technology for harvesting energy, yet there is so much opportunity.”
Potential uses for Power Felt include lining automobile seats to boost battery power and service electrical needs, and insulating pipes or collecting heat under roof tiles to lower gas or electric bills.
Cost has prevented thermoelectrics from being used more widely in consumer products. Standard thermoelectric devices use a much more efficient compound called bismuth telluride to turn heat into power in products including mobile refrigerators and CPU coolers, but it can cost $1,000 per kilogram. Like silicon, researchers liken its affordability to demand in volume and think someday Power Felt would cost only $1 to add to a cell phone cover.
Hewitt is currently evaluating several ways to add more nanotube layers and make them even thinner to boost the power output.