Solar Cell Fabric-A Cloth Which Can Produce Electricity
Solar cell fabric is a fabric with embedded photovoltaic (PV) cells that generate electricity when exposed to light.
The researchers have built a PV cell in the layers around a fiber, creating a tiny cylindrical cell. No longer limited to rooftops and poles, the solar collection could work silently and unobtrusively from everyday objects.
What Is Solar Cell Fabric?
Solar panels are traditionally made of “photovoltaic panels” and most of the time made of glass or other types of rigid material that can afford to stand in intricate and often scorching places like deserts.
However, this is not ideal nor very practical for clothing, and so the idea of solar-powered fabrics has been one of fiction for a while now, but thanks to incredible research there is an immediate breakthrough in creating functional solar cell components that are not only flexible but also wearable as well.
The elements of the fabric
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.
Firstly, to give you an idea behind the technology and actual science at hand. The ability to charge electronic devices via USB that will either be external. Or indeed actually integrated into the clothing itself would bring a double-shot of calm and convenience for wearers.
Then there is the idea that if these items are adopted on a broader and larger scale. There could be a significant reduction in electricity usage and demand to charge our devices and could make a substantial difference to the peak load issues experienced by electricity grid operators.
All that said in 2017, the University of Tokyo and research institute RIKEN showed off a prototype ultra-thin photovoltaic device that was coated with a stretchable and waterproof film. That would not only mean they could be fitted to fabrics, and therefore clothing, it would also make them machine-washable.
The others benefits
From practical uses in living areas like tents and marquees, for example, a solar tent could be an ideal solution for those who have experienced a sudden loss of their homes, either from a natural disaster like flooding or earthquake.
But, what is the actual technology that goes into making this all possible? One example comes from Nottingham Trent University in the UK.
In the university’s School of Art & Design, the research team investigated how feasible it is for solar cells to be so small that they could be woven into textiles and fabrics so that solar-enabled clothing could be a genuine and real thing, rather than just a cool idea.
The University project makes use of solar cells that are just 3mm x 1.5mm, essentially flea-sized!
And despite all this tiny packaging, the technology inside is an absolute powerhouse, even though the individual cells are too small also to be felt by the wearer at all!
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.
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.
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, the 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.
The dark side
Of course, like anything, there are some downsides to solar fabrics and textiles. The most immediate issue is that the technology is very much in its infancy.
In a perfect world, this technology would be out in public. And we’d be charging all of our electronic gizmos and gadgets from our clothes all day and every day.
Sadly, due to the limitations of the technology, especially when it comes to the micro-sized solar cells at hand. There is still much to do and learn in this department.
What Else Should Be Considered?
There is also the costs to consider, it is not currently cheap to implement thousands of embedded solar cells into clothes and other kinds of fabrics, due to the various things that must be considered such as the design of the battery and the connection ports that physically allows the item to charge devices, where do they go? How big do they have to be? Do they impede on certain parts of the body? And so on…
The same can be said for many countries during Winter, even in other places were sunset times remain reasonable even during the colder months, the amount of practical sunlight available for most of us stuck in an office, or school environment will be minimal.
Although plenty of milestones are being reached today in the field of solar cell fabrics and the fact that solar clothing is fast becoming a genuine and practical reality, feeling closer than ever, there are still plenty of challenges ahead that must be overcome before it can indeed happen.
Author: Asif Hossain
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