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Miniature solar panels are being embedded in clothing to charge cellphones and wearables

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Tilak Dias

Nottingham Trent University has found a way to embed miniaturised solar cells into yarn that can be knitted and woven into textiles. The clothing made of this fabric will then generate electricity to charge a mobile phone or a wearable device.

Measuring only 3mm in length and 1.5mm in width, the cells cannot be felt by the wearer, making garments appear normal, despite having the capability to generate electricity. The cells are encapsulated in a resin which allows the textile to be washed and worn like any other form of clothing.

“The electrical power demand for smart e-textiles has always been its Achilles’s heel. [Now] We can create clothing and fabric that generate power in a sustainable way, doing away with the need to plug items into wall sockets, and reducing the demand on the grid whilst cutting carbon emissions,” said project lead Professor Tilak Dias (pictured), of the School of Art & Design.

The university’s Advanced Textiles Research Group made a proof of concept textile of 5cm x 5cm large with 200 embedded cells. The fabric generates between 2.5V and 10V and 80mW of power, enough to charge a mobile phone and a Fitbit. The researchers claim that 2,000 of these cells could generate enough power to charge a smart phone.

“This technology could revolutionise the way we think about solar power, clothing and wearables,” said researcher Achala Satharasinghe, who developed the prototype as part of his PhD at the university. “With miniaturised solar cells we can generate power in a range of new ways, by utilising things like clothing, fashion accessories, textiles and more. It will allow mobile devices to be charged in environmentally-friendly ways which are more convenient for consumers than ever before.”

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