Solar Cell Fabric: Could Your Shirt Keep Your Phone Charged?

Solar cell fabric is poised to change the face of wearable electronics. Imagine keeping your smartphone charged, or tracking your fitness and activity levels, just by wearing a certain textile — and without having to carry along a charger cord.

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Scientists have been working on developing a practical solar cell textile for years, and now they are getting closer to a finalized design.

The Challenges of Creating Wearable Solar Cell Fabric

Normally, photovoltaic panels are made of glass or another rigid material, which isn’t exactly practical for clothing. Consequently, researchers have worked to create a functional solar cell component that is flexible and breathable.

Photovoltaic cells must be pliable to be integrated successfully into a textile. Otherwise, bending the fabric would cause their seals to break, destroying their ability to harvest light energy from the sun.

In addition, solar fabric must incorporate battery storage. Without it, as soon as the textile is no longer exposed to the sun, it will stop providing power. Batteries also must be flexible, rechargeable and inexpensive to be practical for a mass market photovoltaic textile.

New Textile Creates Power from Solar Cells and Mechanical Energy

The latest photovoltaic textile technology combines two different polymer fibers, both of which are lightweight and low-cost.

One component is a fiber coated with several chemical elements and compounds. Among them is zinc oxide, a photovoltaic material, which is woven together with copper wire. Essentially, this embeds the fiber with tiny solar cells that can capture ambient light.

The second component is made of copper-coated polytetrafluoroethylene strips along with more copper wire, materials that generate mechanical energy or electricity from friction.

As for solar fabric battery storage, scientists have found that polyester yarn coated with nickel and carbon combined with polyurethane can produce a flexible battery that continues to work even when repeatedly bent and folded.

The Future of Solar Cell Fabric

At the moment, solar cell textiles are still in the testing phase. Researchers have successfully demonstrated that the materials can produce power by integrating them into many different fabric items, including clothing, curtains and tents.

These convenient, wearable electronics that use photovoltaic power aren’t on the market yet, but in the meantime, you can keep your smartphone charged up with a portable photovoltaic device.

Mobile chargers can give you enough juice for one or more charges, depending upon the model. Or go a bit bigger — and have more photovoltaic power for other small electronics — with a portable solar kit.

Solar cell fabric may not be available yet, but affordable residential and commercial photovoltaic systems are. Generate your own free power and exercise your energy independence by calling Intermountain Wind & Solar today. Serving customers throughout the Intermountain West, we look forward to helping you learn more about today’s cutting-edge solar technologies.