Everyone knows that in Solar Power systems for RVs and Campers the bigger the Solar Panels and the more area they cover then the more energy they are capable of producing. But what if the solar cells were involved with the product itself like the fabric in seats of an automobile, Camping Tents, a sail of a boat, or even clothing that can make the outdoor sportsman or construction worker safer from freezing temperatures. What is solar power fabric?
Solar cell fabric is a fabric with embedded photovoltaic cells that generate electricity when exposed to light. Traditional silicon-based solar cells are expensive to make, rigid and fragile. Although less efficient, thin-film cells and organic polymer-based cells can be produced quickly and cheaply
Just as Solar Power Systems get smaller more flexible and stretchable comes a newer approach and way of thinking, developing a way of creating a fabric that replicates a Solar Panel, and here’s how.
Solar Panel Cloth
Nottingham Trent University has developed a way to embed miniaturized solar cells into yarn that can then be knitted and woven into textiles. Measuring the size of a flea, the tiny solar cells have been proven to charge a mobile phone and a Fitbit. Are solar-powered clothes ready to hit the mainstream? from PowerTechnology Website
Over the years since Solar power has been around many new solar materials have been tested, silicon remains by far the dependable photovoltaic industry’s favorite. Researchers in the Solar Industry found the same problem with silicon for certain applications is its rigidity, unlike some thin-film solar cells.
Flexible solar cells either consist of low-cost, low-efficiency organic materials or more efficient but very expensive inorganic materials. You’ve seen the Thin-Film flexible solar sheets that can be applied to places where the Ridgid Solar Panels can’t be installed like Sail Boats and odd-shaped structures.
The main problem with Thin-film flexible solar panel systems is most of these panels aren’t durable and don’t last but because they are flexible and can be applied almost anywhere, the possibilities remained high for their future of them in the Industry.
Solar panels used are made of photovoltaic panels and most of the time made of glass or other types of rigid material that can have problems like cracking and in some locations of the U.S., heating issues that can degrade the Panels are a concern.
Not ideal or 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 and stretchable but also wearable as well.
But 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.
Since then thin-film cells and organic polymer-based cells can be produced quickly and cheaply. They are also flexible and can be stitched onto fabric and researchers have built a PV cell in the layers around a fiber, creating a tiny cylindrical-shaped solar cell. This type of solar power is what most people in the Industry have been dreaming about because the applications are endless.
Research teams 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! There are manufacturers that are already making clothing made with the new fabric creating lines of clothing and even in fabrics used in architecture generating electricity for the building the solar fabrics are used in
The clothing would look and behave like any other textile, but within the fibres would be a network of miniaturised cells which are creating electricity,” said project lead Professor Tilak Dias of NTU’s School of Art & Design. “This could do away with the need to plug items into wall sockets and reduce the demand on the grid while cutting carbon emissions. The electrical power demand for smart e-textiles has always been its Achilles heel and this technology will allow people to use smart textiles while on the move.”
Solar Powered Jacket
Named as one of TIME magazine’s Best Inventions and as Sports Gear of the Year by WIRED, the Solar Charged Jacket is made from a highly responsive material that can be instantly charged and made to glow in the dark by any light source you can find.
The waterproof Solar Charged Jacket is naturally energized fast by sunlight, so one of the easiest ways to charge it is by wearing it outside during the day. Whether it’s for 2 minutes or 2 hours, the jacket will store the energy from the sun and start glowing as soon as you head somewhere dark. Even if it’s a cloudy day or you leave it near a window, minimal daylight is bright enough to charge it up.
The longer you expose the Jacket to sunlight the more it accepts the brighter it will emit light. The light can last for up to 12 hours and the Jacket can be topped off with a light bulb or the headlights from a car.
Photovoltaic Fabric merges two different lightweights, low-cost polymer fibers to create energy-producing textiles. Crazy but true. The first component of the textile is a micro cable solar cell, able to gather power from ambient sunlight. The second is a nanogenerator capable of converting mechanical energy into electricity. Sound familiar well it should, this type of Solar Power System basically does what a big system does. It harvests energy from the sun and stores it as a battery does.
The photovoltaic portion of the fabric was composed of a copper-coated polymer fiber that was then further coated with concentric layers of manganese, zinc-oxide/dye, and copper iodide the zinc oxide is a photovoltaic material, while the copper helps harvest the charges. These solar-cell micro cables were then woven together with a copper wire.
The second energy-generating material was based on triboelectric generation, where certain materials generate electricity when they experience friction. For their textile, the researchers used copper-coated polytetrafluoroethylene strips woven together with a copper wire.
Simply, These two fabrics are woven together and made into all kinds of things that fabrics can be woven into except they can capture and store energy from the sun. Used in things like Camping Tents, clothing, and curtains.
As these technologies grow they could blow the Solar Industry right out of the water with all kinds of ideas for creating sustainable energy being built within a product instead of being attached to it. What started with big and bulky Ridgid Solar Panels on your roof, that was pricy and difficult to deal with, just a decade or so back in time. it’s a gamechanger for sure.
References: PowerTechnology Website
Solar Fabrics- Wearable Solar Technology