Imagine threads that would turn the wearer into a walking power source. That’s the concept behind a new type of fiber-optic solar cell developed by John Badding of Penn State University. Announced back in December of 2012, this development could very well lead to the creation of full-body solar cells that you wear, providing you with an ample amount of renewable electricity that you could could carry with you everywhere you go.
Similar in appearance to most fiber-optic cables made from flexible glass fibers, these new solar cells are thinner than the average human hair and could conceivably be woven into clothing. Whereas you conventional solar cell exists only in two-dimensions and can only absorb energy when facing the sun, this 3D cross-section of silicon infused fiber are capable of absorbing light from any direction.
Already, John Badding and his research team have received interest from the United States military about creating clothing that can act as a wearable power source for soldiers while they’re in the field. In addition, like peel and stick solar panels, we can expect commercial applications for satchels, like the kind used to house laptops. Forget the power cable, now you can charge your battery pack just by setting it in the sun.
And given the upsurge in wearable tattoos and implantable medical devices, these fibers could also prove useful in clothing to ensure a steady supply of power that they could draw from. Hell, I can picture “solar shirts” that have a special recharging pocket where you can place your MP3 player, smartphone, tablet, or any other electronic device once the battery runs down.
Naturally, all of this is still in the research and development stage of things. John Badding and his team have yet to aggregate the single strands into a piece of woven material, meaning it is still speculative as to whether or not they will be able to withstand the stress faced by regular clothing without breaking down. Nevertheless, the material is still a significant advancement for solar energy, with the new cells presenting many possibilities for remote energy use and accessibility.
And I for one am still excited about the emergence of fabric that generates electricity. Not only is it a surefire and sophisticated way of reducing our carbon footprint, it’s science fiction gold!