The latest fashion breakthrough is taking ‘sportswear’ in a whole new direction: researchers at Nottingham Trent University have developed a new fabric made up of tiny intertwined photovoltaic cells capable of recharging electronic devices such as cell phones and smart watches. By school announcement last week, the prototype includes 1,200 tiny solar panels – each measuring just 5 x 1.5 millimeters – which can generate 400 milliwatts (mWatts) from the sun, which is enough to keep small gadgets powered by the source renewable energy.
“Until now, very few people would have thought that their clothing or textile products could be used to generate electricity,” says Theodore Hughes-Riley, principal investigator and associate professor of e-textiles. “… [T]he material we developed, for all intents and purposes, looks and behaves like any ordinary textile, as it can be creased and washed in a machine. The researchers also note that because the tiny solar cells are made of silicon, wearers may not even notice a difference in the composition of the fabric compared to standard clothing.
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Potential larger-scale uses include building items such as outerwear, backpacks, and other carrying bags using the material, which could allow wearers to keep their devices charged while on the go. during the day. “E-textiles really have the potential to change people’s relationship with technology, because this prototype shows how we could do without charging many devices at the wall,” adds Hughes-Riley.
Solar energy innovations are key to moving human society away from fossil fuel technologies and are emerging in a variety of different fields. The European Space Agency, for example, plans to experiment with solar panel systems in orbit above the Earth. Since there are no true “days” or “nights” in space, let alone zero cloud cover, the potential solar power output could reach up to 8 or 9 times more than is currently achievable here on the surface of the planet. As powerful as this may one day be for us, it is encouraging to know that even small changes like the composition of our clothing can help usher in the renewable energy shift needed for our species.