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Surprising Science

Solar Cell Fabrics Could Make Charging Phones Much Easier

Scientists have succeeded in shaping a solar cell into a fiber that’s flexible enough to be woven into a fabric that can be used to power an electronic device.

What’s the Latest Development?

Penn State professor John Badding and an international team of scientists have combined glass optical fibers with the semiconductor materials found in typical photovoltaics to create a solar cell that, in shape and width, is thinner than a human hair. Their process, which was published last week in the online version of the journal Advanced Materials, built on earlier work that attempted to address the challenge of merging round optical fibers with flat silicon-based electronic chips. High-pressure chemistry techniques allowed them to shape the fundamental elements in those chips into a form that could be incorporated into the fiber.

What’s the Big Idea?

Badding says that it’s possible to create very long fibers using this method, which enables the weaving of lightweight fabrics that can be used in a wide range of applications including power generation and battery charging. This could be very useful for soldiers in the field, who often carry heavy chargers. The shape of the fabric also lets it receive light at different angles, according to Badding: “[It] would not be as dependent upon where the light is coming from or where the sun is in the horizon and the time of day.”

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