Researchers at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) have developed new textiles embedded with more than a thousand miniature solar cells – which are capable of charging a smartwatch or mobile phone.
A woven textile embedded with 1,200 miniature photovoltaic cells. These cells combined together can harness 400 milliwatts (mWatts) of electrical energy from the sun – enough to keep small gadgets charged. The solar cell e-textile can be easily incorporated into a piece of clothing such as a jacket or used as part of an accessory such as a backpack.
Designed to be exposed to the same forces as everyday clothing with very strong wiring, the fabric can be washed in a machine at 40°C with another laundry. The solar cells are embedded in a waterproof polymer resin and cannot be felt by the wearer. Each solar cell measures only five millimeters in length and 1.5 millimeters in width.
“Until now, very few people would have considered that their clothing or textiles products could be used for generating electricity,” said Dr. Hughes-Riley, of the university’s Advanced Textiles Research Group (ATRG). “And the material which we have developed, for all intents and purposes, appears and behaves the same as any ordinary textile, as it can be scrunched up and washed in a machine. But hidden beneath the surface is a network of more than a thousand tiny photovoltaic cells which can harness the sun’s energy to charge personal devices.”
“Electronics textiles really have the potential to change people’s relationship with technology, as this prototype shows how we could do away with charging many devices at the wall. This is an exciting development that builds on previous technologies we have made and illustrates how it can be scaled up to generate more power.”
The material is breathable and chemically stable, as all solar cells are made from silicon. Tests showed that the material generated a power output of 335.3 watts in 0.86 sunlight. Under 1.0 sun, it would generate up to 394 mWatts.
“This project shows how e-textiles can be at the forefront of sustainability and that they have the potential to reshape our existing conceptions of technology,” said Ms. Kgatuke of the Nottingham School of Art & Design. “We have combined long-established weaving techniques with modern technology to create future products which may change people’s perceptions of clothing and electronics.”