Generating Energy Becomes Personal
In the not-too-distant future, the way we generate energy will change dramatically. This shift will not just mean the ongoing transition from fossil fuels to renewables; it will also concern the way our day-to-day gadgets are powered. There still will be large-scale power plants to provide energy for industry, infrastructure and households, but some part of power generation will become decentralized all the way to its point of use: down to a personal level where gadgets, textiles—even implants—will generate their own power. There is an almost infinite number of mechanical energy sources all around us—basically, anything that moves can be harvested for energy. These environmental energy sources can be very large, like wave power in the oceans, or very small, like rain drops or biomechanical energy from the heartbeat, breathing, and blood flow. Engineering at the nanoscale allows researchers to find more and more ways to tap into these pretty much limitless sources of energy and to make energy harvesting and storage much more efficient. If current research is an indicator, form and shape of future electronics will go far beyond very small and ultra-thin devices and wearable, flexible computers. Not only will these devices be embedded in textile substrates but an electronics device or system could ultimately become the fabric itself. Electronic textiles (“e-textiles”) will allow the design and production of a new generation of garments with fully integrated sensors and electronic functions. Such e-textiles will have the revolutionary ability to sense, act, store, emit, and move—think biomedical monitoring functions or new man–machine interfaces—while ideally leveraging an existing low-cost textile manufacturing infrastructure. All these wearable and potentially textile-embedded electronics will require power; and it wouldn't make sense to have to plug your sleek flexible sleeve display into a bulky lithium-ion battery brick. Researchers are therefore pushing the development of wearable energy storage. Especially supercapacitors with a cable-type architecture could lead to flexible energy storage devices that can achieve a subversive technology to open up a path for radical design innovations.