The researchers, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, have shown how pairs of textile fibers covered with zinc oxide nanowires generate electricity in response to applied mechanical stress.
Scientifically referred to as the piezoelectric effect, "the resulting current flow from many fiber pairs woven into a shirt or jacket could allow the wearer's body movement to power a range of portable electronic devices," says a statement by the National Science Foundation (NSF), who funded the project.
Typical real-world scenarios would be military personnel in service, hikers and other outdoor users.
However, it is not limited to shirts. The fibers could also be woven into curtains, tents or any other fabric subject to movement.
"The two fibers scrub together just like two bottle brushes with their bristles touching, and the piezoelectric-semiconductor process converts the mechanical motion into electrical energy," explained Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Institute. "Many of these devices could be put together to produce higher power output."