WATCH | A team of scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a fabric that can generate electricity from the sun and motion.
This Georgia Tech tweet shows a sample of the fabric.
Flexible, breathable, lightweight
Dr. Zhong Lin Wang, a professor at the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering, explained that his team used a commercial textile machine to weave together solar cells and lightweight, low-cost polymer fibers.
The fabric is flexible, breathable and lightweight, so it can be used for a wide range of things.
It's capable of creating a small amount of electric power from movement.
Most of the materials, such as copper and wool, are fairly cheap to incorporate into the fabric. The most expensive material is the dye molecule, which is needed for solar energy conversion.
"That costs more, so if we want to make this really commercially viable, we have to reduce the cost for the dye molecule so the whole cost can be reduced," Wang explained. Wang says the fabric could be integrated into tents, curtains or wearable garments so people can charge electronics when they're off the grid.
Enough to charge a phone on a cloudy day
During testing, researchers attached a piece of fabric the size of a sheet of paper to a rod and held it out a window while driving to determine how much power could be generated on a cloudy day.
Tests showed a piece of the fabric could charge a commercial capacitor to two volts in a minute using sunlight and energy. So while that's not a ton of electricity, it could be enough to give your phone some charge.
2-3 years away for consumer use
Wang said the test indicated that the fabric is usable in harsh environments because they were able to generate a decent amount of energy, despite the lack of sunlight.
One major roadblock still remains: The fabric can't be washed. Wang says the next step is developing a way to protect the electrical components of the fabric from moisture.
The fabric will likely be incorporated into consumer products within the next two or three years.