A team of renewable energy researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a type of solar cell that can be woven into fabric, harvesting energy when exposed to the sun.
The cells are made using a mineral called perovskite, which makes them not only cheap but also extremely efficient. Normal, flat cells made from this material have an impressive efficiency of 20%, and can be made 400 times thinner than conventional silicon cells.
Weaving the cells into thread is no easy task though. The researchers coated carbon nanotubes with several layers of different materials, including perovskite, silver to increase the conductivity of the thread, and a protective film that allows light through.
A resulting cloth made of this thread isn't quite as efficient as the flat cells - only 3% of the solar energy hitting it becomes electricity. Contact with air and water also causes the cloth to stop producing power after just four days.
But it's a start and the team reckons both of these problems can be improved. If they're right, then clothes woven from this fabric could act as wearable chargers for our smartphones and smartwatches in the future.
The team published the details of its discovery in Advanced Materials.