Solar textiles

Providing new forms of energy within your clothing

We are all aware of the concerns about relying on oil and coal as sources of energy. How much are we damaging our environment by extracting oil and coal? What do we do when supplies run out? One answer is to use nuclear energy, but many people are very uneasy about this alternative – look what happened in Japan last year: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/11/japan-earthquake-2011-nuclear-power-plant_n_834444.html

So there is a real push now to work out how to harness energy from renewable sources, like the wind, waves and ocean tides. But the source of direct energy with the greatest potential is the sun: the sun provides the whole earth with more energy in one hour than the world’s population uses in one year. The sun will be an “endless” source of energy, at least for the next few billion years! Solar power can be converted directly into electricity, using solar (photovoltaic) cells. Normally these cells are attached to glass, but glass is heavy, inflexible and fragile. So there is now a lot of research on depositing solar cells onto flexible materials instead, like thin plastic films and, increasingly, textile fabrics.

You can find out more about the work going on in this area at Power Textiles Ltd here: http://powertextiles.com/adding-solar-cells-to-textiles

Solar textiles could have all sorts of uses. It might be that some of your clothes could power your smartphone, continuously – no need to plug it in to recharge it. You would have an extra reason for wearing clothes, in addition to making you look good (we hope!) and keeping you warm.

There are many other textile products that could be used to turn light into electricity: tents, marquees, awnings, to name some. Here is just one example. Solar tents could help people who are suffering from a sudden loss of their homes, due to a bush fire, flooding, earthquake or other natural disaster. They would not only shelter the victims but also provide some much needed power, before heavier and more cumbersome power generators could be installed.

But what do you think? Could this essential area of research be one that that you would like to develop further?

You could help revolutionise the way we choose the clothes we wear and the energy we need to carry out our daily activities in your role as: