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Scientist Invents Solar-Powered Clothing That Can Charge Electronic Devices

Necessity fuels innovation, and in a hyperconnected world powered by electronic devices, people don’t always have easy access to an outlet, which led a scientist at the University of Central Florida to come up with a way to turn clothing into chargers.

Jayan Thomas, an assistant professor and nanotechnology scientist at UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, developed a ribbon-like device that simultaneously harvests and stores solar energy and can be woven into fabric to power electronic devices. In short: wearable batteries.

“The idea came to me: We make energy-storage devices and we make solar cells in the labs. Why not combine these two devices together?” Thomas said in a press release.

His research team developed filaments in the form of thin, flexible, lightweight copper ribbons, with a solar cell on one side and energy-storing layers on the other. They then used a small, tabletop loom to weave the ribbons into a square, to prove that the filaments could be laced throughout clothing to harvest and store energy to power devices, such as phones and fitness trackers.

“A major application could be with our military,” Thomas pointed out. “When you think about our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, they’re walking in the sun. Some of them are carrying more than 30 pounds of batteries on their bodies. It is hard for the military to deliver batteries to these soldiers in this hostile environment. A garment like this can harvest and store energy at the same time if sunlight is available.”

Another potential use: electric cars that could generate and store energy anytime they’re in the sun.

“That’s the future. What we’ve done is demonstrate that it can be made,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be very useful for the general public and the military and many other applications.”

Thomas’ research, which was published last week in Nature Communications, expands on his previous exploits in creating a cable that can transmit and store energy at the same time and semi-transparent solar cells that can be applied to windows.