Researchers at Iowa State University have found that photovoltaic thin film has advanced to the point where it is durable and efficient enough to be incorporated into clothing. Following these advances, they have decided to craft the photovoltaic material into a snazzy solar powerneck necktie, along with several other solar-powered garments. Talk about the ‘power suit’!

Photovoltaic thin film has about the same thickness as paper, and properties similar to camera film. The film can be scratched, punctured, or rolled to a three inch diameter without impairing function. The researchers’ real challenge was to integrate it into an aesthetically pleasing garment. First, the team used a shiny cotton sateen to mimic the reflectiveness of the solar panels. Then they used digitally printed designs to create a pattern that looks, well, almost normal – for a tie.

Since the researcher’s goal is to be able to charge electronic devices like cell phones, the solar panels must be a certain size and certain pattern in order to produce the correct voltage. This presents the challenge of designing around flashy photovoltaic film. As the researchers’ thesis notes, “There is a balance between integrating technology so it adds value to a garment, and maintaining visual appeal.”

The tie has a pocket in the back for your phone, which will be fed an impressive 3.6 volts under the best sun exposure, although lesser light sources will also give a charge. Pretty handy, even if it is tough to knot.

+ Iowa State University