Innovative solar-powered clothing offers dynamic temperature regulation
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Dec 18, 2023
In a significant advancement for wearable technology, researchers have developed a novel solar-powered clothing system capable of providing personal heating and cooling. This groundbreaking innovation, detailed in a recent study, integrates a flexible solar cell with an electrocaloric device to dynamically adapt the body’s temperature to changing environmental conditions. This technology is poised to enhance human comfort and safety in fluctuating temperatures and could be particularly beneficial in extreme environments, including outer space and other planets.
Traditional clothing has primarily been designed to either warm or cool the wearer, but it often struggles to adapt quickly to rapid temperature changes, especially in harsh climates like polar regions, deserts, or the vacuum of space. Current thermoregulatory clothing technologies fall into two categories: passive systems, including radiative cooling and phase change systems, and active systems that offer rapid temperature adjustments but at the cost of high power demands and bulky equipment.
Addressing these limitations, the team led by Ziyuan Wang has developed an innovative all-day, solar-powered bidirectional thermoregulatory clothing system. Wang et al.’s design ingeniously combines an organic photovoltaic module with a bidirectional electrocaloric unit into a single, flexible device. This integration allows the system to be woven into conventional clothing, eliminating the need for additional power sources as it is self-powered through sunlight.
This new clothing technology offers substantial benefits in temperature regulation. On hot days, the device can cool the skin by 10.1 Kelvin (K), while at night or in dark conditions, it can provide an additional 3.2 K of warmth. Impressively, it maintains human skin temperature within the comfortable range of 32.0C to 36.0C, even when environmental temperatures vary between 12.5C and 37.6C. The device’s high efficiency ensures 24-hour controllable thermoregulation with just 12 hours of sunlight energy input.
Xingyi Huang and Pengli Li, in a related Perspective, emphasize the potential of Wang et al.’s integrated device. They note that it “opens many possibilities for developing actively controlled, self-powered and wearable localized thermal-management systems” and underscores its role in “expanding human adaptation to harsh environments.” They also speculate on a future where such technology not only provides all-weather thermal management but could also harness extra energy to power electronic devices under special conditions.