Caltech researchers may have unlocked the holy grail of gadget-powering clothing, thanks to a recent discovery that could eventually produce cheap, flexible solar cell microfibers.
The team, led by Harry Atwater, says the bendy solar cells use just 1% of the silicon needed by a solar cell with the same output. Additionally, the bendy cell does this with only 5% of the size. The base that "grows" the micrometer-wide silicon wires is also reusable, further lessening the future costs of a pair of theoretical Gap Gadget khakis. Better still, the Caltech cells are efficient, reflecting back only about half as much energy as a similar sized "traditional" cell.
So they're small, flexible and cheap. Seemingly perfect, but will they really work in the merciless real world? So few of these promising designs end up passing that test. If they don't work we'll always have those solar powered tobacco leaves to fall back on.
Oh, and these guys, who are working on kind of the same thing, but prettier (that's their image, above). In any event, the future of solar cell clothing appears bright, or leafy, depending on where its coming from. [New Scientist]