Our hunger for energy is insatiable, and it is even increasing with the increasing supply of new electronic devices. In addition, we are almost always on the move and therefore permanently dependent on a power supply unit to charge our smartphones, tablets and laptops. In the future, sockets could potentially be out of date (at least for this purpose). The electricity would then come from our own clothing. With a new polymer applied to textile fibers, jackets, T-shirts and the like could soon function as solar collectors and thus as a mobile energy supply.
Make luminescent materials flexible
The solar industry already uses materials that can use indirect light or ambient light to generate energy. 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 transfer its energy to the actual solar cell, which then converts light into electrical energy. 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 headed 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 offers precisely this flexibility and air permeability.
Well-known polymer with sophisticated properties
This new material is based on Amphiphilic Polymer Co-Networks, 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 special properties of the polymer – air and water vapor permeability as well as flexibility and stability – are also advantageous for the human eye and are based on special chemical properties. “The reason we chose this polymer is that we are able to incorporate and interact with two immiscible luminescent materials on a nanoscale. There are of course other polymers that incorporate these materials However, this would lead to aggregation and the generation of energy would therefore not be possible, “explains Boesel.
Bright solar concentrators for clothes
In cooperation with colleagues from two other Empa laboratories, Thin Films and Photovoltaics and Advanced Fibers, the Boesel team added two different luminescent materials to the gel tissue and turned it into a flexible solar concentrator. Just like with large (rigid) collectors, the luminescent materials capture a much wider spectrum of light than is possible with conventional photovoltaics. The novel solar concentrators can be used on textile fibers without the textile becoming brittle and prone to cracks or the accumulation of water vapor in the form of sweat. Solar concentrators worn on the body offer an immense advantage for the constantly increasing demand for energy, especially for portable devices.
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Materials provided by Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA). Originally written by Stefanie Zeller. Note: The content can be edited by style and length.