Department of Design

Hidden photovoltaics enables freedom to design e-textiles

The Sun-powered Textiles project explores the possibility of using solar panels as an energy source for so-called smart clothing without the wearer looking like a robot.
A close-up image of a woven textile structure to be used to cover the solar cell.
A close-up image of a woven textile structure to be used to cover the solar cell. Textile design: Zuzana Zmatekova, Photo: Aalto University / Linda Lehtovirta & Emilia Pennanen

Solar cells make e-textiles energy autonomous 

There are many applications in wearable technology, smart textiles and e-textiles that are already available and widely used in sports, health and wellbeing, and workwear. All the sensors, devices and visual effects added into textiles need a power source. Solar cells can replace the traditional batteries in some applications and make smart textiles energy autonomous. 

The logical way of integrating photovoltaics is to attach solar cells on the front surface of a textile to ensure maximum energy harvesting. That significantly compromises the aesthetics: a black or silver coloured solar cell attached on top of a fabric dominates the look of the textile or garment.

Inspired by building-integrated photovoltaics

In the Sun-powered Textiles project, the solution is to hide the solar cells underneath a textile layer. By visually concealing the solar cell, it enables a broader freedom of design, while still producing enough energy for powering wearable devices. The solution is inspired by the facades in building-integrated photovoltaics.

Two persons discussing about knitted textile properties for solar cell textile integration
Close cooperation with the companies is the key success factor for applied research. Photo: Aalto University / Jaakko Eskola

Multidisciplinary collaboration allows us to identify and focus on the key research needs

The main objectives in the project are

  • to understand how the textile materials and structure affect the solar cell performance and
  • to find optimal solar cell cover materials by measuring the optical properties of textiles.

We are researching textile materials that will visually hide the solar cell, and simultaneously, allow the ambient light to be transmitted through to the solar cell. To ensure the commercial feasibility, we need to confirm that the solar cells meet the requirements of textile-product-integration. This includes, for example, the consideration of physical form factors that are suitable for textile products, durability in textile processing, care and use, and sufficiently high efficiency in the end-use lighting conditions. The goal is to provide guidelines for industrially scalable solar cell textile design and business opportunities for energy-autonomous e-textiles powered by photovoltaics.

In the Sun-powered Textiles project, the main application for solar cells in professional workwear and smart textiles aims to improve the safety of employees. Academic partners from Aalto University, Department of Design and Department of Applied Physics, provide the practical knowledge about textile materials, design and production combined with technical and physical basis for the photovoltaic phenomenon. The industrial partners Foxa Oy and Lindström Oy bring in the perspective of textile end-users, and the electronics company Haltian Oy provides hardware and software solutions for the project needs. Close collaboration with the companies allows us to identify and focus on the key research needs and challenges that would facilitate commercial utilization of the results. The co-innovation project is financed by Business Finland.

  • Published:
  • Updated:
Share
URL copied!