Your Next Device Charger May Be the Shirt on Your Back

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Scientists at the Penn State University have found a new way to construct solar cells: in the form of a fiber that someday may be able to be woven into a fabric. Picture a fiber-optic strand that is doped with silicon like rock candy on a string. They used high pressure to force semiconductors directly into the pores of the fiber itself.

“Long, fiber-based solar cells give us the potential to do something we couldn’t really do before: We can take the silicon fibers and weave them together into a fabric with a wide range of applications such as power generation, battery charging, chemical sensing, and biomedical devices.”

Badding explained that one of the major limitations of portable electronics such as smart phones and iPads is short battery life. Solar-boosted batteries could help solve this problem. “A solar cell is usually made from a glass or plastic substrate onto which hydrogenated amorphous silicon has been grown,” Badding explained. “Such a solar cell is created using an expensive piece of equipment called a PECVD reactor and the end result is something flat with little flexibility. But woven, fiber-based solar cells would be lightweight, flexible configurations that are portable, foldable, and even wearable.” This material could then be connected to electronic devices to power them and charge their batteries. “The military especially is interested in designing wearable power sources for soldiers in the field,” Badding added.

Obviously this has applications around the home. Shades and drapes, awnings, all kinds of common household items can be generating power with easy installation. While your curtains may not get enough solar exposure to power the entire house, one excellent use would be for the “power vampire” issue, where devices like Blu-ray players and televisions continue to draw a few watts for standby and fast start purposes. In the past, up to 10% of a household’s power use would go to devices on standby, and while modern devices are mostly in the 1W range, and from next year will be limited to 0.5W on standby, it still adds up, and the more everyday surfaces we can turn into clean sources of fuel the better.

Via: [Penn State]

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