In a truly international collaboration, a team of physicists, chemists and engineers from all corners of the globe have created the first ever fibre-optic solar cell. Thinner than a human hair, these man-made fibres and completely flexible and perfectly formable – and produce electricity, just as a solar panel would.
Starting with optical fibres made from glass, the research team injected n-, i- and p-type silicon into the fibre using a process called high-pressure chemical vapour deposition. Essentially turning the new composite into a solar cell, these silicon-enhanced threads use the same photovoltaic effect that their 2D-cousins use – but the 3D tubular shape of the these fibre-optic versions intrinsically allows a more efficient capture, as it doesn’t matter which way the cell is facing or how it’s positioned.
John Badding of Penn State University was the lead researcher on the project says the team have already rigorously tested the fibre at lengths as far as several metres, and it is more than capable of being woven at right-angles and stand up to the same stress as other garments.
Badding also said that the military had already expressed interest in the project, with a view of creating wearable power sources for soldiers in the field. However, the long-term success of a weavable, wearable, portable power source could have huge benefits in the field of innovation and commercial electricity.
Power cells for portable devices like laptops, mobile phones and tablets could soon be woven into uniforms for charging on the move, and solar panels could be installed in a variety of more subtle places for businesses to try and create their own source of electricity.
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