It may soon be possible to weave solar panels into the textiles used to produce clothing and curtains, car seats and tents, thanks to a fabric designer in Madison, Wisconsin and an organic chemist in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The idea began with the solar-charged handbags that Marianne Fairbanks offered through her now-defunct company, Noon Solar. It evolved when Fairbanks heard about Trisha Andrew’s work on an organic, dye-based solar cell on paper, Smithsonian.com reports.
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
“The way that today’s wearable electronics are created is a simple process of packaging,” Andrew said. “A Fitbit or an Apple watch—they all have a PCB [printed circuit board], which holds the little electronic circuit. It allows you to ‘wear’ that device, but to me that’s not real wearable electronics. That’s only something that is patched onto another material.”
Researchers first began incorporating solar cells in textiles in 2001, producing stadium covers, carports, and wearable art.
“But Andrew and Fairbanks claim their fabric is superior to other groups’ in breathability, strength, and density,” Smithsonian.com notes. “Not only have they figured out how to utilize their process on any type of fabric, but because this is a collaboration between scientist and designer, they also have the ability to broaden the scope of solar textiles within a more commercial, consumer-friendly market.” (h/t to InsideClimate News for pointing us to this story)