A future where just being outside in the sunlight is enough to keep your electronic devices charged up is around the corner. A group of scientists from Britain’s Nottingham Trent University have discovered a way to achieve this with solar-powered clothing. They’ve successfully demonstrated the technology can be used to top up a Fitbit or a smartphone.
Essential reading: Moving away from the wrist, the best smart clothing
The research is about embedding micro-scale solar cells into electric yarns in order to create fabrics. Each cell is extremely small and measures only 3mm in length and 1.5 mm in width.
You can weave 200 of these babies into a piece of fabric measuring only 5 square centimeters. This number of cells generates 2.5 to 10 volts and up to 80 milliwatts in power when exposed to light. Scientists say you would need around 2,000 cells to charge a smartphone, so a shirt would provide ample room as this equates to some 50 square centimeters of needed space.
“By embedding miniaturized solar cells into yarn, we can create clothing and fabric that generate power in a sustainable way,” said project lead Tilak Dias.
“The clothing would look and behave like any other textile, but within the fibers would be a network of miniaturized cells, which are creating electricity.”
The cells are so tiny they would not change the feel or look of the fabric. Plus they are encased in resin, which means you can wash them in a normal manner.
This will especially be useful when the concept of smart clothes catches on. Its fair to say, these types of garments have yet to reach mass market appeal. But sensors embedded into your everyday wear are in a much better position to under stand the minute workings of your body than something sitting on your wrist.
In fact, smart clothing is expected to have the second highest growth rate over the next five years behind hearables. Albeit, this is from a relatively low starting base. A recent ABI Research report expects shipments of intelligent garments to increase from just under 5 million in 2017 to over 31 million. This represents an incredible annual growth rate of 45% per year by 2022.
Embedding solar charging yarns in fibers and yarns would only add to their appeal. And let’s not forget the benefits to the environment. The technology would help to reduce air pollution, water pollution, or greenhouse gases.
“This is an exciting technology which could revolutionise the way we think about solar power, clothing and wearable technology,” commented researcher Achala Satharasinghe.
“With the availability of miniaturised solar cells, we can generate power in a range of new ways, by utilising things like clothing, fashion accessories, textiles and more. It will allow mobile devices to be charged in environmentally-friendly ways which are more convenient for consumers than ever before.”
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