researchers use tiny photovoltaic cells to develop e-textile


The future of wearable technology is looking brighter following the latest research from the UK’s Nottingham Trent University (NTU). Led by Dr. Theodore Hughes-Riley, associate professor of Electronic Textiles at the Nottingham School of Art & Design, the experimental project saw the development of an e-textile embedded with 1,200 tiny photovoltaic cells — a never-before-seen prototype with great implications. By introducing solar power to the world of clothing and accessories, the team claims that the miniature panels can generate 400 mWatts of electrical energy, ‘enough to charge a basic mobile phone or smartwatch‘, noted NTU

embedded with 1,200 tiny solar cells, this e-textile turns clothing into power sources
an e-textile with 1,200 photovoltaic cells | all images courtesy of Nottingham Trent University



waterproof, breathable, and highly flexible 


According to the university, users can incorporate the e-textile prototype into clothing (ex: jacket) and daily accessories (ex: backpack). Moreover, the integrated wiring is strong and highly flexible, capable of withstanding 40°C washing in a machine with other garments. This is made possible by wrapping the 5 x 1.5 mm photovoltaic cells in discreet and waterproof polymer resin. On the other hand, the research team chose a breathable material to test their prototype. Measuring 71 x 27 cm, the fabric is also chemically stabilized thanks to the silicon-based structure of each small solar panel. After several testing rounds, the e-textile successfully generated 335.3 mWatts in 0.86 sunlight and 394 mWatts under total sun exposure.

embedded with 1,200 tiny solar cells, this e-textile turns clothing into power sources
the woven fabric can be embedded into clothing or accessories



a leap in wearable technology? 


This prototype gives an exciting glimpse of the future potential for e-textiles,’ remarked Dr. Hughes-Riley. ‘Until now very few people would have considered that their clothing or textiles products could be used for generating electricity. And the material which we have developed, for all intents and purposes, appears and behaves the same as any ordinary textile, as it can be scrunched up and washed in a machine. But hidden beneath the surface is a network of more than a thousand tiny photovoltaic cells which can harness the sun’s energy to charge personal devices.’


‘Electronic textiles really have the potential to change people’s relationship with technology, as this prototype shows how we could do away with charging many devices at the wall. This is an exciting development which builds on previous technologies we have made and illustrates how it can be scaled up to generate more power.’

embedded with 1,200 tiny solar cells, this e-textile turns clothing into power sources
the photovoltaic cells of the e-textile are wrapped in waterproof polymer resin



The research was conducted jointly with Dr. Neranga Abeywickrama, a postdoctoral research fellow in Energy Harvesting and Management in Textiles, and NTU Ph.D. candidate Matholo Kgatuke. ‘This project shows how e-textiles can be at the forefront of sustainability and that they have the potential to reshape our existing conceptions of technology. We have combined long-established weaving techniques with modern technology to create future products which may change people’s perceptions of clothing and electronics,’ concluded Kgatuke

embedded with 1,200 tiny solar cells, this e-textile turns clothing into power sources
Nottingham Trent University researchers developed the prototype



project info:


technology: e-textile with 1,200 embedded photovoltaic cells 

research team: Nottingham Trent University | @nottinghamtrentuni