A close up image of a smart textile

Loughborough University project helps further develop nanogenerators for “smart clothing”.

A Loughborough University project is helping in the drive to develop nanogenerator technology which can lead to “affordable” clothing capable of sensing how healthy we are.

Academics within the University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering hope their recent technological advancements can help them create clothing that will help measure activity levels and communicate with their surroundings.

Their most recent work has used 3D printing techniques to create a new Triboelectric Nanogenerator (TENG) design – which can then be customised through a series of liquids for the purpose of efficiently extracting energy from movements and for sensing.

Dr Ishara Dharmasena is a Senior Lecturer at Wolfson school who is leading on the project – which is now in the process of using this knowledge to develop wearable technology which picks up on a person’s natural movements to provide health data. He said: “TENGs are a rapidly growing piece of technology which are becoming a leading candidate in developing future smart textile and health monitoring applications.

“The finding of this study, which provides detailed insights into how these devices can be made more efficient and effective, directly feeds into our efforts to develop technologies such as ‘super-smart textiles’, leading to a promising future with advanced and sustainable wearables.”

Rameesh Bulathsinghala is the PhD student contributing to this study. He said this work has uncovered some important information: “During our research, we have found several previously unknown trends in the output of TENGs which help broaden our understanding.

“The techniques we introduced help to significantly improve the performance of TENG, which can help us make these devices more efficient, smaller, and cheaper. Our target is to use these results to create impactful and affordable practical applications such as wearable health monitoring systems in the near future.”

Dr Dharmasena adds: “One of the key factors for the future success of this technology is to understand and work out how best to design the TENG, so that they can provide us with the best possible electrical performance. Dielectric constant of the TENG – which measures a substance’s ability to store electrical energy within an electric field, is a decisive factor which need to be engineered during this design process.

“As there is little knowledge on how the dielectric constant can be tuned to control TENG electrical outputs, understanding the real impact of it within this space has been particularly difficult experimentally, as it is a unique property for a given material.

“Changing the dielectric constant would typically mean changing the material or doing significant modifications, which changes many other properties such as surface area and charge density. This creates a lot of complexity in their design process.

“However, our findings allow us to alter the dielectric constant without interfering with any of the other properties – it’s a tremendous breakthrough.”

The study was published in Nano Energy.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 24/51

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2024 and 10th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

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