For how many years have we talked about solar-powered clothing? And how many designs have we seen that just... well really don't make the cut? Despite the hurdles, tech-savvy designers aren't giving up and a project at Colorado State University might have a magic bullet that not only incorporates solar power into stylish clothing, but uses natural fibers for the fabrics as well.
The goal set by the students is to find a clothing solution for the outdoorsy types that has all the functionality of high-tech clothing, such as sweat-wicking capabilities for keeping runners dry, but uses natural fibers and that will provide energy to devices used by said runner such as an MP3 player. The project is run on a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and promises to deal with pollution on two levels -- first, the pollution from the energy industry and second, the pollution from the textiles industry.
Colorado State reports, "First, the clothing will use the most recent research and technology to make natural fibers such as cotton and linen as outdoor savvy as other petroleum-based textiles which are heralded by outdoor enthusiasts for warmth, UV ray protection, comfort and moisture-wicking. Second, the clothing will provide a solar source of energy for electronic devices, reducing alkaline battery use. Eulanda Sanders and Ajoy Sarkar, associate professors in the Department of Design and Merchandising, along with four students, are currently developing natural-fiber outdoor clothing prototypes that harvest energy while the wearer participates in outdoor activities."
It is truly a first since most designers are worried about stylishly incorporating the solar panels, or making the clothing practical. The failure of most designs is that the solar panels are simply ugly, bulky, or cannot easily be washed.
As Discovery News points out, "Clothing with solar panels has been developed before, but these duds usually rely on petroleum-based materials rather than natural fibers. A prime example is California-based Silvrlining's GO Solar Power Collection, which puts solar power into microsuede sportswear. While certainly cool-looking, the director's jacket costs $1,180."
To try and come up with an ideal design for the outdoor person that is fashionable and functional both as clothing and an energy source is a lofty goal -- but attainable.
It is also a goal worth rewarding. The students will enter their designs and prototypes at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. later this year with the hope to beat out 44 other teams for more funding to advance the project.