October 6, 2008

Polar bear fur inspires solar fibers

In the quest to make fabrics that turn sunlight into electricity, one research team has turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: polar bears.

When ultraviolet light hits near the root of a polar bear hair the light scatters inside the hair and changes wavelength, producing luminescent light. The luminescent light warms the polar bear's skin.
Polymer fibers coated with a material containing a fluorescent dye mimic polar bear hair; they're transparent to visible light but absorb ultraviolet light, which energizes the fluorescent dye. The fibers' transparency makes them suitable as coatings.

Add a semiconductor material to the coated fibers, and you have photovoltaic fabrics. Though less efficient than rigid solar cells, energy harvesting fabrics have the advantage of flexibility; they can be made into vehicle and building skins and everyday objects like curtains and clothing.

Research paper:
Textile Solar Light Collectors Based on Models for Polar Bear Hair
Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, published online September 13, 2008

Researchers' homepages:
German Textile Research Center Northwest (German)
Institute for Textile Chemistry and Chemical Fibres (German)

Back to ERN October 6/13, 2008



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