Empa: Wearable solar concentrators

Wearable solar concentrators


Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Empa, Dübendorf/Switzerland, and the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, have succeeded in developing a material that works like a luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) and can even be applied to textiles.

By means of a new polymer that is applied on textile fibers, jackets, T-shirts and the like could soon function as solar collectors and thus as a mobile energy supply.
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. However, LSCs are currently only available as rigid components and are unsuitable for use in textiles because they are neither flexible nor permeable to air and water vapor. The interdisciplinary research team has now succeeded in incorporating several of these luminescent materials into a polymer that provides this flexibility and air permeability. This new material is based on amphiphilic polymer co-networks (APCN). The special properties of the polymer – permeability to air and water vapor as well as flexibility and stability – are also beneficial to the human eye and are based on special chemical properties. 2 different luminescent materials were added to the gel tissue, turning it into a flexible solar concentrator. Just as on large-scale (rigid) collectors, 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.


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