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Invisibly small carbon nanotubes aligned as fibers and sewn into fabrics become a thermoelectric generator that can turn heat from the sun or other sources into energy.

The Rice University lab of physicist Junichiro Kono led an effort with scientists at Tokyo Metropolitan University and the Rice-based Carbon Hub to make custom nanotube fibers and test their potential for large-scale applications.

Their small-scale experiments led to a fiber-enhanced, flexible cotton fabric that turned heat into enough energy to power an LED. With further development, they say such materials could become building blocks for fiber and textile electronics and energy harvesting.

The same nanotube fibers could also be used as heat sinks to actively cool sensitive electronics with high efficiency.

A paper about the project appears in Nature Communications.

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