Wearable Solar Panels – Solar Powered Fabric – A Game Changer

Solar Panels

Though there is abundant energy (solar) all around us on a bright sunny day, this energy is hardly used or converted into a 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 of utilizing 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 skinny and flexible copper “ribbons” embedded in a woven fabric, and are capable of harvesting and storing solar energy simultaneously. This innovation can prove very important for making wearable tech self-powering devices, as long as it’s a 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, ‘energy-smart ribbon’. The most important thing about this innovation is that the ribbon is lightweight. 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 supercapacitor that shares 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 tabletop loom and used 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 beneficial to the military.  At present, the soldiers carry heavy batteries to power equipment in the field; the filament could drastically cut down the weight and be less bulky. It could also be used in drones as well as in electric vehicles.

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