Researchers Develop Wearable Textile That Harnesses Solar Energy And Converts Them Into Electrical Energy

Researchers at Swiss Laboratory Empa and ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in...

Two luminescent materials (red and green) are incorporated into a polymer at the nano scale. This polymer is flexible, permeable and at the same time acts as a solar concentrator for energy generation, which can be applied to textile fibers. Photo credit: Empa

Researchers at Swiss Laboratory Empa and ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich) have developed a material that works like a luminescent solar concentrator and can even be applied to textiles. This opens up numerous possibilities for producing energy directly where it is needed, i.e. in the use of everyday electronics.

Read more: Energy Harvesting Nanogenerators Offer New Option For Monitoring Health

Materials capable of using indirect or ambient light for energy generation are already being used in the solar industry. These materials contain special luminescent materials and are called "Luminescent Solar Concentrators", or LSC for short. The luminescent materials in the LSC capture diffuse ambient light and transmit its energy to the actual solar cell, which then converts light into electrical energy, reports Stefanie Zeller at Empa.

However, currently available LSCs are rigid and aren’t permeable to air and water. Therefore, thye are not suitable for use in textiles.  The Empa team, led by Luciano Boesel from the Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles has now succeeded in incorporating several of these luminescent materials into a polymer that provides precisely this flexibility and air permeability.

This new material is based on Amphiphilic Polymer Co-Networks, or APCN for short, a polymer that has long been known in research and is already available on the market in the form of silicone-hydrogel contact lenses, the Empa report said.

"The reason we chose exactly this polymer is the fact that we are capable of incorporating two immiscible luminescent materials at the nanoscale and let them interact with each other. There are, of course, other polymers, in which these materials could be integrated; but this would lead to aggregation, and the production of energy would thus not be possible», explains Boesel.

Read more: Researchers Develop Stretchable Thermoelectric Coils for Energy Harvesting in Flexible Wearable Devices

“The luminescent materials capture a much wider spectrum of light than is possible with conventional photovoltaics. The novel solar concentrators can be applied to textile fibers without the textile becoming brittle and susceptible to cracking or accumulating water vapor in the form of sweat. Solar concentrators worn on the body offer an immense benefit for the ever-increasing demand for energy, especially for portable devices,” reports Empa.

Sam Draper
October 26, 2020

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