A new experimental fabric can turn a coat into a mini solar farm

A new experimental fabric can turn a coat into a mini solar farm

A new woven textile containing 1,200 miniature solar cells could one day find its way into jackets and backpacks.


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Andrew Paul
|

Published Oct 17, 2022 2: 30 PM

Woman sitting down on couch charging smartphone

The solar cells embedded in clothing can’t even be felt by wearers. Deposit Photos

The latest fashion breakthrough in activewear is that researchers at Nottingham Trent University have created a fabric with interwoven microphotovoltaic cells that can recharge electronic devices such as smartwatches and mobile phones. Per the school’s announcement last week, the prototype swatch includes 1,200 minuscule solar panels–each measuring just 5 by 1.5 millimeters–that can generate 400 milliwatts (mWatts) from the sun, which is enough to keep small gadgets juiced thanks to the renewable energy source.

A new experimental fabric can turn a coat into a mini solar farm
A piece of cloth could keep your phone charged. Nottingham Trent University

” “Until now, very few people would have thought that their clothes or textiles could be used to generate electricity,” says Theodore Hughes–Riley, the lead researcher and associate professor of Electronic Textiles. “… “The material we have developed, for all intents & purposes, appears and behaves like any other textile. It can be scrunched up in a machine and washed in an ordinary machine.” Researchers also note the fact that the tiny solar cells made of silicon are invisible to the wearer and they are unable to notice any difference in the fabric’s composition.

[Related: Best solar panel of 2022. ]

Potential scaled-up uses include the construction of outerwear, backpacks and other carrying bags from the material. This could allow users to charge their devices while on the move during the day. Hughes-Riley says that electronic textiles have the potential to transform people’s relationship to technology. This prototype shows how it could be done without charging multiple devices at the wall.

Solar power innovation is key to transitioning society away from fossil fuel technologies and are popping up in many different fields. The European Space Agency, for example, plans to experiment with solar panel systems orbiting above Earth. Since there are no real “days” or “nights” in space–not to mention zero cloud coverage–potential solar power generation could be as much as 8 or 9 times greater than what’s currently achievable here on the planet’s surface. It’s encouraging to see that even small changes such as the composition of our clothes can make a difference in bringing about the necessary shift in renewable energy for our species, however powerful that might be.

Andrew Paul

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