Dr. Jayan Thomas has created very thin and flexible copper “ribbons” which can be embedded in a woven fabric, and are capable of harvesting and storing solar energy simultaneously. Credit: UCF
Though on a bright sunny day there is an abundant energy (solar) all around us, this energy is hardly used or converted into the useful form of. The portable solar panels available today generally cannot store the energy they produce. The energy produced has to either flow directly into the device to be charged or a separate, heavy battery is needed to store it. This is precisely the hindrance in utilising solar power effectively.
A group of nanotechnology scientists at the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Centre, led by researcher Dr. Jayan Thomas has created very thin and flexible copper “ribbons” which can be embedded in a woven fabric, and are capable of harvesting and storing solar energy simultaneously. This innovation can prove to be very important for making wearable tech self-powering devices, as long as it’s bright sunny day. Maybe one day there is a possibility that you can buy a solar-powered jacket that can charge your phone or a wearable gadget.
The scientists have named it as, ‘energy-smart ribbon’. The most important thing about this innovation is, the ribbon is light weight, and researchers have integrated two separate devices (the solar cell and storage battery) into a single device, which looks like a filament. The filament / device is made up of a solar cell and an energy-storing super-capacitor that share an electrode, and several of these can be held together with interwoven yarns. Dr. Thomas had won an award last year for designing an electrical cable that can transmit and store energy. His team created the prototype using a small table top loom and have also made use of these special cables in it. But for the commercial usage of this filament in the clothing industry needs more research as at present the filament made by this team is not as flexible as a thread.
The team got the motivation for developing this technology, from Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nike sneakers in the 1989 movie ‘Back to the Future II’. Nike has brought these sneakers, in reality, this year, they operate on a battery that one has to plug-in to charge.
This technology can be extremely useful to the military. At present the soldiers carry heavy batteries to power equipment in the field, the filament could cut down the weight drastically and will be less bulky too. It could also be used in drones as well as in electric vehicles.