Embroidered patches allow existing fabrics to generate electricity

Although many groups are developing power-generating “smart fabrics,” the technology is often too complex to be scaled up to commercial use. Now, however, scientists have devised a simple method of embroidering electrical generators onto regular fabric.

It incorporates a special yarn, made of commercially available copper wires coated in polyurethane. That yarn gets embroidered onto a base of regular cotton fabric – or potentially any other material. In the area where the yarn is being added, though, the cotton is overlaid with a fabric made of a synthetic polymer called PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). There’s a tiny gap between the PTFE and the copper wires.

The new technique is being developed at North Carolina State University, by a team led by Asst. Prof. Rong Yin.  “During fabric production, you don’t need to consider anything about the wearable devices,” said Yin. “You can integrate the power-generating yarns after the clothing item has been made.”