A research team at Nottingham Trent University has developed a manufacturing method which enables it to embed solar cells within knitted and woven fabrics that can charge electronic devices such as mobiles phones and FitBits. The solar cells, at just three millimetres in length and 1.5 millimetres in width, are encapsulated in a resin which is then applied to a textile substrate. This, the researchers say, allows the fabric to be worn and washed like any other garment, without sacrificing its ability to generate power.

Up to 200 cells can generate 2.5-10 volts in power. This was tested when the university’s Advanced Textiles Research Group created a 5x5cm sample fabric with integrated cells to monitor its performance.

Following positive trials, the team has suggested that 2,000 solar cells could be incorporated within a larger fabric to generate enough power to charge an electronic device.

“This could do away with the need to plug items into wall sockets and reduce the demand on the grid while cutting carbon emissions,” commented project lead Professor Tilak Dias, of the School of Art & Design. “The clothing would look and behave like any other textile, but within the fibres would be a network of miniaturized cells which are creating electricity,” he added.

Researcher and PhD student Achala Satharasinghe added, “This is an exciting technology which could revolutionise the way we think about solar power, clothing and wearable technology. “With the availability of miniaturized solar cells we can generate power in a range of new ways, by utilising things like clothing, fashion accessories, textiles and more. It will allow mobile devices to be charged in environmentally-friendly ways which are more convenient for consumers than ever before,” he concluded.