Solar Cell Skins: Weaving Suits that Can Charge Your Phone
So far, we have heard of solar cells that are developed and configured with more flexibility than the regular rigid panel type. There’s the thin film solar panel type for example. While it is a bit less efficient than ordinary panels, it can at least be installed on any surface, regardless of its shape or orientation.
Just how thin and flexible solar panels can be anyway? From what these new solar cell skins tell me, I think they might go as thin and as flexible as ordinary clothing.
Solar Cells that you’ll Most Likely Wear
Based on the existence of film-type solar cells, we already know that there is a continuing research to improve solar cell flexibility. However, based on the official report posted at the Stanford University’s website, this new version is nothing short of what could be described as a “super skin”. Zhenan Bao, the researcher of this innovative project aims to develop an efficient sensor that could detect pressure at the slightest degree. “So where’s the news about the flexible solar cell here?” You might ask. Well, it appears that included in the research, is to make the super skin self-powering, and what more could make it independent by creating new kinds of thin and flexible solar cells that would generate ambient energy for the sensor.
The reason why the new flexible solar cell is called “skin” is that one of its most important distinct characteristic is its capability to be stretched and snapped back elastically. You can distort its shape by up to 30 percent beyond the original length of the stretched portion, and it will still return to its original form, without any significant physical damage or reduction to its inherent efficiency.
More than Just a Body Sensor
While the actual purpose of the super skin is to create a sophisticated and highly sensitive body sensor, let us not forget the possibility given by the solar cells that are supposed to be equally flexible. The first thing that would come to mind is probably the fabrication of clothing that can generate an adequate amount of electricity to power a multi-functional mobile device.
A simple example could be a shirt that is made out of solar cell skin. The shirt could then have a sort of plug or port at any end that would allow you to connect a device and power it by the energy that it generates. With the solar cell skin in constant “energy production mode”, it would mean that you are literally wearing a free energy source that can indefinitely power your smartphone, tablet computer or any other mobile device.
Probably a hurdle in the development of wearable solar cell skins is the fact that it might not be as sweat-absorbent as your favorite sportswear. Of course, it does not need to be worn as the primary piece of clothing, and there are other practical workarounds for this kind of problem, such developing a composite suit made out of solar cell skin.
Also, I am quite curious about its washability properties. Would the solar cell suits be safe for dry cleaning?
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by PNNL – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s photostream via Flickr
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