Power Electronics

Photovoltaic R&D Aims to Weave Powerful Fabrics

Konarka Technologies has announced that it is working with the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to create a photovoltaic fabric, which could transform textile products into novel power sources. Through this joint effort, the Photovoltaic Fibers and Textiles Based on Nanotechnology program is expected to yield the first fully integrated woven photovoltaic material. Such material will allow for tighter integration of power generation capabilities into devices, systems and structures beyond what is possible with plastic film.

"Photovoltaic textiles could positively increase the number of applications available to solar technology by extending integration to objects made from fabrics, such as garments, tents or coverings," said Daniel Patrick McGahn, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Konarka. "We'll be able to offer to the marketplace practical new products, such as wearable power generation for mobile electronics made from the solar fabric."

Konarka, a developer of power plastics that convert light to electrical energy, has already demonstrated it can produce a working photovoltaic fiber. To weave a fabric, Konarka and EPFL will optimize the strength, thickness and electrical performance of the photovoltaic fiber. In addition, the team will work to interweave fibers so as to maximize the performance of the textile without compromising the fibers' integrity. The goal is to produce a fabric sample with at least a four percent efficiency rating.

That efficiency rating would be half of what Konarka has achieved with its full-size production cells based on the company’s coatable plastic photovoltaics. Moreover, the company expects to exceed 10% efficiency with those coatable plastic cells. To put those numbers in perspective, consider that first-generation solar cells based on crystalline silicon wafers perform at about 15% efficiency. Meanwhile second-generation, thin-film solar cells operate with approximately 3% to 7% efficiency.

Commenting on the photovoltaic textiles in development, Dr. Russell Gaudiana, Konarka's vice president of research and development, said, "This unique solar fabric represents a leap forward for photovoltaic technology. It will enable power generation capabilities to be woven in rather than applied. For example, we're able to incorporate our light-activated power plastic onto tenting materials, such as canvas or nylon. Using the fiber, the tent's base material becomes photovoltaic."

The EPFL team is led by Dr. Jan-Anders Manson, the director of the Laboratory of Composite and Polymer Technology. The undertaking is expected to last one year and is funded by the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI).

For more information, visit www.konarka.com.

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