A research team, led by John Badding of Penn State University, has developed the first ever fiber-optic solar cell. Similar in appearance to most fiber-optic cables made from flexible glass fibers, these new solar cells have the potential for creating wearable energy sources in the near future.
Thinner than a human hair, these flexible optical fibers are injected with a silicon composition under high pressure to turn them into solar cells. While most solar cells are 2-Dimensional and applied to flat, hard surfaces because of structural restrictions, the 3-Dimensional and flexible nature of these fiber-optic solar cells means they can be produced in strands that can then be woven together.
The implications behind this indicate that we may soon be able to wear a flexible power source woven directly into our clothing. The research team has already received interest from the United States military about creating clothing that can act as a wearable power source for soldiers while they’re in the field.
At this point, however, the fibers have yet to be aggregated into a piece of woven material, meaning it is still speculative as to whether or not the fibers will be able to withstand the stress faced by regular clothing without breaking down.
The material is still a significant advancement for solar energy as a 3D cross-section of the silicon infused fiber show that it is capable of absorbing light from any direction, making it more efficient than its 2D counterpart.
If and when the technology is successfully woven together, we may soon be able to wear shirts, jackets, or pants that are able to recharge our phones and MP3 players. The material could also prove useful for medical devices carried on your person or implanted in your body that are power-dependent.
The new cells present many possibilities for remote energy use and accessibility, assuming they can withstand the wear-and-tear of everyday use.