Created clothes that are solar panels

The Flexibility Problem of Luminescent Materials

The solar industry already uses materials that

capable of using indirect or diffuselight 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 the scattered ambient light and transmit its energy to the active solar cell, which then converts the light into electrical energy.

However, LSCs are currently only available inrigid components and are not suitable for use in textiles. The fact is that they are not flexible and permeable to air and water vapor. An interdisciplinary research team led by Luciano Bosel of the Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles of the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) has succeeded in combining several of these luminescent materials into a polymer that provides the flexibility and breathability required for use in textiles.

A well-known polymer with complex properties

This new material is based on the properties of linearand hyperbranched amphiphilic block copolymers which are already on the market in the form of silicon hydrogel contact lenses. The special properties of the polymer - permeability to air and water vapor, as well as flexibility and stability - are based on special chemical properties.

“The reason why we chose this particularpolymer, is that we can combine two immiscible luminescent materials at the nanoscale and let them interact with each other. Of course, there are other polymers in which these materials can be integrated; but that would lead to aggregation, and thus energy production would be impossible, ”explains Bosel.

Solar concentrators for clothing

In collaboration with colleagues from the other twofrom Empa Laboratories, Thin Films, Photovoltaics and Advanced Fibers, the Boesel team added two different luminescent materials to the gel cloth, transforming it into a flexible solar concentrator. As with large scale (rigid) collectors, luminescent materials capture a much wider spectrum of light than is possible with conventional photovoltaic cells. The new solar collectors can be applied to textile fibers without the fabric becoming brittle and prone to crackling or water vapor build-up in the form of sweat. Solar collectors, which can be adapted to be worn permanently on the human body, offer a huge advantage to the ever-increasing demand for energy, especially for portable devices.

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