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project: solar fiber

In May 2012 I attended a really interesting pilot program of Ideas Waiting to Happen, organized by Doe Het Niet Zelf (Don't Do It Yourself), Digiluce and Creative Cities Amsterdam Area. There were three days of knowledge-sharing and brainstorming, covering the topics of nanotechnology, 3D printing and LED lighting and flexible circuits. The idea was to bring together people from all different disciplines and see what ideas would arise. Three different prizes provided incentives to think of not only something that seemed nice at the time, but something that could potentially be developed into an actual product and be put to use.

I got together with Marina Toeters, Ralf Jacobs and Aneila Hoitink and we came up with an idea to work on flexible, fibre-based solar panels. Marina, Aniela and I all work with technology in relation to textiles, fashion and product design. Ralf is a scientist, specialising in optics and light, so the idea resonated with all of us for different reasons. Quite unexpectedly, our idea was chosen as one of the winners! We received €2500 in startup money and €2500 in assistance from L&P Group. This means we can go ahead with research and development.

I'll post experiments and updates here as they happen, but if you want to follow our project more closely, it's best to keep an eye on the Solar Fiber website.

progress: the first prototypes!

After the first attempts at weaving, I decided it would be better to use an existing fabric as a base and integrate the optic fibers into it. We have some finer fibers, now - 0.5mm! :)

I pulled threads in a loosely-woven linen-look fabric and replaced them with individual fiber optic threads. I used a wide black mesh fabric to hold the optical fibers to use as straps for a dress. We hope that one day our photovoltaic fiber will be as soft and drapey as the fabric used in the body of the dress.

The hat was made by Aniela by integrating fiber optic threads into a round form, which works really well and illustrates our technique perfectly! Marina has been working on a jacket that integrates actual solar panels into the design. Ralf has been chasing up both publicity and technical support opportunities - so much progress!

test: integrating fiber optics in textiles

After the first attempts at weaving, I decided it would be better to use an existing fabric as a base and integrate the optic fibers into it. We have some finer fibers, now - 0.5mm! :)

I pulled threads in a loosely-woven linen-look fabric and replaced them with individual fiber optic threads. I used a wide black mesh fabric to hold the optical fibers to use as straps for a dress. We hope that one day our photovoltaic fiber will be as soft and drapey as the fabric used in the body of the dress.

test: first proof-of-concept

Since we don't have a fully-equipped laboratory to develop our own photovoltaic fiber, our approach will be to garner interest and support for our idea by making proof-of-concept prototypes. If we can show that it's possible to generate energy from textiles, we hope to get enough public interest to get the help we need to make our idea a reality.

One way we can do this straight away is to use fiber optics to transport light to a photodiode (like a tiny solar panel). We're starting with quite thick, stiff fiber optic threads of 1mm, but we're searching for finer yarns that we can work into finer textiles.

Here are my first attempts at weaving with fiber optic yarn:

Aniela and Marina are also experimenting with using fiber optic threads in textile techniques. Marina tried knitting (the thread was too stiff) and Aniela tried crochet, but later had more success with organic weaving styles. See our post on the Solar Fiber website for photos.