Modern society is built on portable electronics, and with these power-hungry pieces of technology comes the need for convenient charging. To mitigate the need to find power outlets, a team at the University of Central Florida, lead by Jayan Thomas, created a ribbon which both harvests solar energy and stores it within a single unit. Remarkably, the technology is able to be woven with other standard materials in order to create energy harvesting clothing and vehicles, among other applications. The authors of the work also mention that energy storage capacities can be improved by combining this technology with thin-film Li-ion batteries.
Robert Gustafson, a graduate student at Harvard University focusing on developing solar energy technology, believes this work focuses on “trying to solve a niche issue of personal remote power access by integrating energy generation with energy storage via clothing.” He adds, “I love the creativity to solving this issue,” but cautions that there are major issues which still need to be addressed. These issues include rain, which “[…] will destroy the solar cell if there is a crack in the coating as [the device] is water soluble,” the need for direct sunlight to power such a device, which is unrealistic “[…] during active use because only half the body will be facing the sun (the other half is in the shade)”, and the cost of such a technology, which he notes will “cost strictly more than the same solar cells and capacitors separate from the clothing.” Gustafson’s concerns could complicate the path for this technology to reach consumers, however, the technology still holds promise for a currently untapped avenue in energy procurement.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Robert Gustafson, a graduate student in the lab of Roy Gordon in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, for his commentary on the novelty of this technology and hurdles that remain for widespread use.
Managing Correspondent: Aaron Aker
Research article: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms13319