Bioengineers at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and their colleagues have developed and successfully demonstrated a wearable fabric that can harvest and store solar energy from the sun. Their study, published by the journal Matter, shows a path to developing lightweight, smart clothing and wearable tech gear outfitted with unobtrusive bioelectronics sensors that can be used to monitor the wearer’s health.
“Our fabric is a wearable solar cell and a rechargeable fabric battery all in one,” said Jun Chen, assistant professor of bioengineering at UCLA Samueli and corresponding senior author of the study. “There’s been a lot of early progress in wearable bioelectronics that are made from textiles that can flex and fold just like clothes. However, these sensors and electronics also need a source of energy to power them.
“What makes our fabric unique is that it also stores the energy, rather than simply harvesting it,” Chen said. “It could provide a sustainable and stable energy solution to wearable bioelectronics for personalized health care, such as measuring one’s heart rate and blood pressure.”
The fabric is made of soft polymer fibers, coated with a thin layer of zinc and manganese dioxide that helps store the harvested energy from sunlight, but the fabric’s hand and feel is similar to that of a cotton t-shirt. Woven in with inexpensive cotton yarns in a relatively simple manufacturing process, the fabric can store and maintain energy up to 60 days. In addition to its functional capabilities, the colors and patterns of the fabric can also be customized.