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Indian scientists have the reputation of innovating unique solutions to global challenges befitting the key factors of affordability and resource availability. While the success of such innovations has made ISRO one of the most respected space agencies in the world, several such innovations by researchers in academia have brought in momentous changes in the lives of people in India.
In one such feat, researchers from IIT Kharagpur have ventured into the avenue of clean energy generation in an unexampled way of sourcing electricity from the drying of clothes in open space. Drying of clothes is a part and parcel of our lives and who could have thought that it can meet the power requirements through Nanoscale Energy Harvesting.
Traditionally woven cellulose-based fabric contains a tiny channel network which has been used by the group of researchers for electrical power generation. They successfully guided the movement of saline water amidst continuous evaporation quite analogous to water transport across the parts of a living plant. The device design inherently exploits a large transpiration surface for achieving a sustainable motion of salt ions, through natural evaporation phenomenon.
“The clothes we wear are made from cellulose-based textile which has a network of nano-channels. Ions in saline water can move through this interlace fibrous nano-scale network by capillary action inducing an electric potential in the process,” explained lead researcher Professor Suman Chakraborty, a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department, and a lead researcher of the group.
The device has been tested in a remote village across a surface area of 3000 sq. metre. Around 50 cloth items were put up for drying by washermen in the village. These clothes were connected to a commercial supercapacitor which discharged electricity of around 10 Volt in almost 24 hours. This stored energy is enough to glow a white LED for more than 1 hour.
The novelty of this innovation is in its frugal means instead of energy harvesting from complex resources emphasized Prof. Chakraborty. “It was beyond imagination that a wet cloth being dried in a natural atmosphere could be made capable of generating clean energy. This would be extremely beneficial in addressing the essential power requirements for the underprivileged community and in remote areas,” he opined.
Another novelty of this device is the use of intrinsic surface energy of the fabric for driving the current. In contrast other artificially engineered power generation devices need external pumping resources.
The economy of scale can be achieved by drying a set of regular wearable garments under the sun-light. “This eventually culminates into a utilitarian paradigm of low-cost power harvesting in extreme rural settings,” explained Chakraborty.
India’s summer climate would serve as an enhancer to maximize the flow-induced electrical potential. However, any geographical region with a hot and dry climate would be effective for using this technology seamlessly.
The above research has been recently published in Nano Letters (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.nanolett.9b02783), a high-impact Journal from the American Chemical Society. The research team consisted of Ph.D student Sankha Suvra Das, MS student Vinay Manaswi Pedireddi and Assistant Professor Aditya Bandopadhyay, under the overall supervision of Professor Chakraborty. The research has been financially supported by the Institute Challenge Grants, a unique initiative from IIT Kharagpur.
Graphics : Suman Sutradhar