Let there be light from textiles
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Let there be light from textiles

A student of Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute has developed a fabric-based solar cell that can be used for generating solar power in remote areas.

education Updated: May 22, 2013 10:39 IST
Jeevan Prakash Sharma
Jeevan Prakash Sharma
Hindustan Times

A fabric that generates electricity on its own? It may seem unbelievable but it’s true for a student of MTech Textile Technology from Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute has actually invented something like this. Hrishikesh Kirkire has attempted to develop a solar cell fabric using the dye sensitised solar cell technology under the guidance of his professors VD Gotmare and DV Raisinghani.

Kirkire made use of textile materials/technology to develop a solar cell that is flexible and which can bring about a revolution in the photovoltaic industry. It can allow portable use of solar power for military applications. Soldiers need electricity for portable devices in remote areas, to power mobile and stationary electronic devices to communicate, cool and heat, etc.

“It’s like living in a tent house whose roof is made of a fabric that generates electricity by tapping solar energy. Converting a fabric into a solar cell is a unique concept that can be put to several uses,” says Kirkire.

The idea was born out of the fact that there has been continuous reduction of fossil fuel resources, stringent restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions and a growing demand for energy which in turn has increased the need for highly effective and inexhaustible energy sources.

“Solar cells or photovoltaic cells that transform light, usually sunlight, into electric current, is one of the cleanest power-generation technologies. Solar energy offers the advantages of a large reserve, sustainable utilisation and environment-friendliness,” he says.

Since many textile products like awnings, canopies, tarpaulins, etc. when in use are exposed to the sun and the ability to harness energy would prove to be a very important value addition. It also provides a platform for finding out creative ways of harnessing power to resolve the burning issues of energy crises worldwide.

According to Gotmare, who is professor-in-charge for the whole project, “The project encompasses a unique concept of a woven anode made from very thin filaments (brass wires) precoated with photovoltaic material before weaving. The idea is to focus on increasing the efficiency of the cell by making use of less raw materials and at the same time preserving the flexible nature of the cell.”

“The greatest challenge while developing such a product is selecting the right material since textiles are generally not resistant to very high temperatures nor are they completely inert to chemicals,” says Kirkire.

“Textile construction is important since it affects not only the physical and mechanical properties of the fabric but also the performance of the solar cell. Woven fabrics are generally considered the best because they possess good dimensional stability and can be constructed to give the desired flexibility. Moreover, the yarn paths in woven structures are well ordered. This makes the design of woven fabric based electrical circuits,” adds Kirkire.

DV Raisinghani, another professor, who is also associated with the innovation, says, “Although many methods of producing flexible solar cells are available their applicability with textiles needs to be established. The commercial viability of these products with respect to economic aspects and durability are also major concerns.”

As the concept has been proved viable, the team is working to develop a prototype of the same. However, sponsorship will be a big challenge for them. “Corporate sponsorship will help in conducting trials and in the mass production of the product. Considering its usability, it will go a long way in solving problems of electricity generation in remote areas. We hope by the time our prototyping stage is over, we will get some industry support,” says Kirkire. Besides Gotmare and Raisinghani, another professor P Bhargava and a senior research associate Pragyensh Kumar from IIT Bombay have also made significant contribution to this innovation.

Team: 1 member

Background: Textile engineering

Focus Area: Development of a fabric-based solar cell

Outcome/impact: Used dye sensitised solar cell technologye to dveloped a fabric-based solar cell

What next: To develop its prototype

‘Solar power is poised to take a prominent position globally’

Vijay D Gotmare is currently working as an associate professor and head of the textile manufactures department at VJTI, Mumbai. His research areas includes, utilisation of textile waste through chemical modification, eco-friendly textile fibres and processes, green technology, high-tech fibres, bio-technology applications in textiles, technical textiles. Talking about the significance of fabric-based solar cell, he says, “With concerns about rising oil prices and climate change spawning political momentum for renewable energy, solar electricity is poised to take a prominent position globally. Solar energy, with many advantages is no doubt preferred. Solar cells that are used to convert solar energy to electricity are being developed rapidly. With increasing textile applications in architecture and civil engineering, developing flexible solar cells is the need of the day,” he says.
This innovation was quite a challenge as making textile fibres conductive is a task in itself, he adds.

First Published: May 21, 2013 18:16 IST