Phone Charging Material – Behind the Idea

These cells have the ability to harness 400 milliwatts (mWatts) of solar energy and are designed to handle the same forces as everyday clothing. And they can be safely machine washed with other items at 40 ° C.

The tiny solar cells measure 5mm by 1.5mm (0.19in by 0.06in) each, and the team behind the development says they are both practical and comfortable to wear.

Dr Theodore Hughes-Riley, associate professor of electronic textiles and part of the Advanced Textiles Research Group at Nottingham Trent University School of Art & Design, led the team behind the development.

So to learn more about how they conducted the research, what inspired it, and what exactly they will do with it, we caught up with Dr. Hughes-Riley to get some answers.

Interesting engineering: What prompted this research in the first place?

Dr. Hughes-Riley: Both electronic textiles and wearable devices require a power source, which often takes the form of a battery. The impetus for this work was to develop a lightweight and discreet portable power source for these devices. This may not fully replace the battery for some applications, but it may provide a portable charging solution.

Have you achieved what you set out to achieve?

We decided to produce a relatively large textile solar panel with normal textile properties and we succeeded. The final panel is deformable, breathable like a normal fabric and soft to the touch.

Were there other goals for the job?

The production of this fabric solar panel involved many manual processes, which made its production quite time-consuming. Moving forward, we hope to automate the manufacturing process more so that we can quickly produce textile solar panels like this one.

What implications does this discovery have for the future?

This textile solar panel is currently a prototype, but the hope in the future is that we may be able to integrate this type of technology into commercial products.

How long do you think it might take for this to happen?

It’s hard to say. Possibly a few years.

After making this discovery, do you think it is plausible that there are other similar objects that could be developed?

The underlying technology used to produce this textile solar panel, e-yarn technology, can and has been used to integrate other electronic components into textiles. I think there is a lot of room for this technology, especially for the development of sensing fabrics and garments.

This prototype offers an exciting glimpse of the future potential for electronic textiles. Until now, very few people would have considered that their clothing or textiles could be used for electricity generation. And the material we developed, for all intents and purposes, looks and behaves like normal fabric, as it can be crumpled and machine washed.

But hidden beneath the surface is a network of over a thousand tiny photovoltaic cells capable of harnessing the sun’s energy to charge personal devices. Electronic textiles really have the potential to change people’s relationship with technology. This prototype shows that we could do without charging a lot of devices on the wall, which must be good for the environment.

So, are there any sustainable implications in this too?

Yes, absolutely. This project shows that e-textiles can be at the forefront of sustainability and that they have the potential to reshape our existing concepts of technology.

Through this development we have combined established weaving techniques with modern technology to create future products that could change people’s perception of clothing and electronics.

The solar cells of the new material are made of silicon, which makes them breathable and chemically stable. And our experiments indicated that the material generated a power of 335.3 mWatts with 0.86 of sunlight and up to 394 mWatts with 1.0 of sunlight.

What are you and the team working on now, as a result of these results?

We are currently working on developing manufacturing techniques to produce electronic yarns in large quantities. Some of the knowledge we gained by creating the large woven fabric solar panel was helpful in furthering this work.

Quick questions

What or who inspires you?

My uncle is an academic and I think this inspired me to pursue a career in academia.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

I’m very goal oriented, so there’s normally something I’m trying to accomplish in a day

What makes you smile?


What’s your biggest hit to date?

A few years ago I wrote an article examining the history of e-textile and it was well received by the community.

What’s your biggest regret?

I’ve traveled a lot, but I’d still say my biggest regret is not traveling more.

What would you say to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Electronic fabrics and wearable technologies are growing areas, so there are opportunities to work in these areas if you are interested in them.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Trust yourself.


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