It is no longer fiction that we can put on garments that generate electricity. The broad implication is that by some technology, the motions of daily life can cause our garments to generate electricity, which will run small electronics like radios, watches, computers and cell phones. A budding graduate from Mombasa Polytechnic University College, Anthony Mutua has come up with a way that will enable you generate electricity from your daily motions.

Mutua’s innovation shows how you can use the pressure you apply on your shoes when you step on them not to wear out the soles but to power your phone. He says that through a process that he has patented with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI), he can use an immensely tiny chip of crystal to generate power when under pressure.

This concept has however existed with us for more than millennia. The problem that normally accompanies it is its limit in terms of quantity of power it can generate and the convenience of its use. Its needs a constant input of force from motion in order to generate power. With the advent of new technology and constant research, these shortfalls can be overcome.

Current research and development worldwide is focused on the behavior of materials at the nano level. Nano simply means one billionth. Materials at this level exhibit many interesting characteristics that when understood properly could lead to several breakthroughs in fields of engineering and sciences like material engineering. The nano technology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale.

One of the inventions from this technology is the nanogenerator.It contains tiny zinc oxide wires that create electricity when they are bent. Five hundred zinc oxide nano-wires are placed side by side each with the width of only about one human hair. The nano-wires are placed on a flexible polymer film. The polymer layers are then arranged in a sandwich-like structure to create a nanogenerator. One zinc oxide wire creates a small amount of electricity, but there are millions of the wires in a nanogenerator the latest generating 3 volts.

In the future, nanogenerators may be placed inside the body where the heartbeat, the activity of the breathing muscles or even the flow of blood could trigger electricity production, which could then be used to drive medical instruments like pace setters. On garments, nanogenerators can be used to power all sorts of devices like iPods and phones. Nanogenerators may also be placed in the soles of shoes so that a person’s footsteps will compress the piezoelectric substance and generate electricity.They would be a very easy to carry and a convenient source of power for our personal electronics.

The present piezoelectric devices work well but still have the Achilles heel that plagued the initial ideas –limit in production and storage. The power and the voltage of these generators must increase. Researchers hope to incorporate more nanowires on to each polymer layer and to stack more layers together to create a better generator.

Mutua runs his business in the Central Business District here in Nairobi. The device can be fitted for you, all for a humble Kshs3, 800 at his place of work. The gadget and its two years of warranty becomes yours and you have the liberty to fix it into your new shows as you deem fit. The National Council of Science and Technology is out to help commercialize Mutua’s project as they already had help in the research and development to the tune of Kshs.500, 000.

The National Science and Technology Council commends the innovations of the likes Mutua as they could serve Kenya immensely in bringing to light new ideas and get rid of the murky poverty that entraps and strangles innovative ideas.

 

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Kenya Engineer is the definitive publication of Engineers in East Africa & beyond and the official journal of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. Kenya Engineer has been in publication since 1972.

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