New Material Harvests Solar Energy for Warmer Clothing

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a new material which could see people wearing solar energy harvesting sweaters capable of regulating temperature on command.


Research published in Advanced Energy Materials, claims the material (A new transparent polymer film) can be used like a solar panel in saving solar energy but produces heat instead of electricity.

The polymer film works by creating a chemical reaction that creates heat rather than power and allows the energy in the cloth to be stored in “a stable molecular configuration” until it’s ready to be released.

Ted Sargent, a professor at the University of Toronto say’s “This work presents an exciting avenue for simultaneous energy harvesting and storage within a single material”.

Adding “The research is a major advance towards the practical application of solid-state energy-storage/heat-release materials from both a scientific and engineering point of view.”

The researchers designed the polymer film with materials called azobenzenes to make it capable of storing useful amount of heat and ensuring it could be manufactured easily and reliably. They enhanced the molecular configuration of azobenzenes to respond to light.

A tiny pulse of heat can easily stimulate azobenzenes to return to its original configuration and release more heat to be used. The team also improved its energy density, its ability to form smooth, uniform layers and its responsiveness to the heat pulse.

The team working on the project believe the polymer film can widely be manufactured in the future as it was based on inexpensive materials. However, they noted that more work is needed before it is made commercially available.

The MIT researchers continue to work on the project and are currently working on improving the polymer’s transparency as it has a slight yellowish tinge. They also aim to increase the heat level it can produce to 20°C from the current 10°C.

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