Solar panel textiles highly praised
By Dimitri Bruyas, Special to The China Post
October 7, 2007, 12:00 am TWN
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The seventh Textile International Forum and Exhibition (TIFE 2007) ended yesterday with local and international experts in agreement on the growing importance of green technologies on value creation in the textile industry. New "foldable" solar and electric devices that can be used in or on garments were especially praised for improving mobility.
"In the near future, bags or jackets will incorporate foldable solar panels that will provide electricity for PDAs, cellphones or digital media players," said Lin Cheng-chu, vice-director of the Weaving Research Department at Taiwan Textile Research Institute (TTRI).
A solar cell is a device that converts light into electricity using a "photovoltaic" effect, which can be used to power equipment or to recharge a battery. The first generation of solar panels was developed in the 1950s but until recently, their high manufacturing costs have made their use prohibitive. According to a survey, "Photovoltaic Energy Barometer 2007," published by the magazine Euro-observer, Japan, Germany and the U.S. make up 90 percent of the total installations of "fixed" solar panels worldwide.
When mass production increases, the second generation of solar panels will become affordable, he said. For instance, the tiny solar panels used on calculators with LCDs became "cost effective" because the very low-power devices were produced in very large quantities.
"A bag equipped with solar panels would cost between NT$3,000 and NT$5,000," said Lin, who added that it is still cheaper than the NT$20,000 some people spend on well-known handbag brands.
But what can you do if it is cloudy or rainy, or if you want to use your laptop at night? Lin said that TTRI has also developed a foldable capacitor that can be used in conjunction with the solar panels. While you are not recharging your portable device, electricity is stored into the capacitor for later use.
"It is a world premiere," said Lin, as most capacitors are not flexible enough to be incorporated into garments.
According to Lin, environmental concerns combined with the aging population worldwide is creating a need for more outdoor activities. Therefore, a new demand for supporting portable devices like cellphones, computers or music players will emerge, he said.
"Innovation and design are the key to ODM — original design manufacturing — in Taiwan," said Lin, who also thinks that Taiwan should not be afraid of Japan. "Japan is of course ahead of us in ODM but regarding fiber finishing, Taiwan is the leader country," he said.