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Imagine a future when all your energy needs are created by the solar fabric clothing you wear -the textiles you use on a day to day basis. Solar cell fabric is a fabric with embedded photovoltaic (PV) cells which generate electricity when exposed to light. Traditional silicon based solar cells are expensive to manufacture, rigid and fragile. Although less efficient, thin-film cells and organic polymer based cells can be produced quickly and cheaply. They are also flexible and can be stitched onto fabric. According to an article from New Scientist researchers have built a PV cell in the layers around a fiber, creating a tiny cylindrical cell. No longer limited to rooftops and poles, solar collection could work silently and unobtrusively from everyday objects. .
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.
Dr. Jonas Sundqvist, group manager for thin-film technology, with prototype textile-based solar so…
Imagine a truck tarp that can harvest the energy of sunlight! With the help of new textile-based solar cells developed by Fraunhofer researchers, semitrailers could soon be producing the electricity needed to power cooling systems or other onboard equipment. In short, textile-based solar cells could soon be adding a whole new dimension to photovoltaics, complementing the use of conventional silicon-based solar cells.
Solar panels on building roofs are a common enough sight today – as are large-scale solar parks. In the future, we may well see other surfaces being exploited for photovoltaic generation. Truck tarps, for example, could be used to produce the electricity consumed by the driver when underway or parked up for the night, or to power electronic systems used to locate trailers in shipping terminals. Similarly, conventional building facades could be covered with photovoltaic textiles in place of concrete render. Or the blinds used to provide shade in buildings with glass facades could be used to create hundreds of square meters of additional surface for producing power.
Glass-fiber solar fabric as a solar-cell substrate
At the heart of such visions are pliable, textile-based solar cells developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano Systems ENAS, Sächsisches Textilforschungsinstitut e.V. and industrial partners erfal GmbH & Co. KG, PONGS Technical Textiles GmbH, Paul Rauschert GmbH & Co. KG and GILLES PLANEN GmbH. “There are a number of processes that enable solar cells to be incorporated in coatings applied to textiles,” explains Dr. Lars Rebenklau, group manager for system integration and electronic packaging at Fraunhofer IKTS. In other words, the substrate for the solar cells is a woven fabric rather than the glass or silicon conventionally used. “That might sound easy, but the machines in the textile industry are designed to handle huge rolls of fabric – five or six meters wide and up to 1000 meters in length,” explains Dr. Jonas Sundqvist, group manager for thin-film technology at Fraunhofer IKTS. “And during the coating process, the textiles have to withstand temperatures of around 200 °Celsius. Other factors play a key role too: the fabric must meet fire regulations, have a high tensile strength and be cheap to produce. “The consortium therefore opted for a glass-fiber fabric, which fulfills all of these specifications,” Rebenklau says.
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 Solar 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.
We look forward to helping you learn more about today’s cutting-edge solar technologies.
Solar energy is becoming ever more widespread, with panels going up not only on houses and office buildings, but on cars, buses, and road signs. The latest advancement in solar technology will put solar energy on another new and somewhat unexpected surface: people. Not directly on us, though—on our clothes.
Scientists are developing wearable energy-smart ribbons that can be woven into fabric, with miniature solar cells to capture and store the sun’s energy.
Copper filaments weaved with cotton thread, delivering a charge. Image Credit: Nature Communications
The solar cells don’t look anything like the ones we’re used to seeing on houses or cars. What we can see is a thin copper ribbon, or filament, that has perovskite solar cells on one side and a layer of material acting as a supercapacitor on the other. The copper serves as a shared electrode, directly transferring and storing the charges generated by the perovskite.
Most existing solar cells are made of silicon, which requires silica rock to be converted to silicon crystals using ultra-high temperatures. Perovskite is a crystalline material that can be processed in a lab at room temperature for about half the current cost of silicon panels. Perovskite also has a more flexible structure and higher theoretical conversion efficiency than silicon.