Polymer coating turns fabric into a light collector

October 23, 2020 //By Nick Flaherty
Polymer coating turns fabric into a light collector
Researchers at EMPA in Switzerland have developed a flexible polymer that can be applied to textiles to act as solar collectors to provide power for wearables.

Fibres can be coated with the polymer to collect light across a broad frequency range and funnel it to a photovoltaic cell to generate power for the garment.

The polymer contains special luminescent materials Luminescent Solar Concentrators (LSC). These capture diffuse ambient light and transmit its energy to a 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.

An interdisciplinary research team led by Luciano Boesel from the Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles has now succeeded in incorporating several of these luminescent materials into the polymer that provides flexibility and air permeability.

The new material is based on Amphiphilic Polymer Co-Networks (APCN) that is already used for silicone-hydrogel contact lenses. "The reason we chose exactly this polymer is the fact that we are capable of incorporating two immiscible luminescent materials at the nano scale 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,” said Boesel.

Working with the Thin Films and Photovoltaics and Advanced Fibre labs at EMPA, Boesel's team added two different luminescent materials to the gel tissue, turning it into a flexible solar concentrator. These capture a broader spectrum of light than is possible with conventional photovoltaics.

The novel solar concentrators can be applied to fibres without becoming brittle and susceptible to cracking or accumulating water vapour such as sweat. Solar concentrators worn on the body offer an immense benefit for the ever-increasing demand for energy, especially for portable devices.

www.EMPA.ch

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