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In brief: It's a sad truth that the world is getting hotter. In addition to all the environmental issues climate change brings, it means that people have to deal with the biological dangers of rising temperatures. One solution could be solar-powered smart clothing that scientists say works like personal air conditioning.
In a paper titled 'Self-sustaining personal all-day thermoregulatory clothing using only sunlight' published in the journal Science, researchers describe how they created solar-powered smart clothing using flexible solar cells and an electronic device.
The paper explains that the human body must stay within a certain temperature range for comfort and safety. But this can be difficult as the world's temperatures continue rising and in "harsh scenarios," such as frigid polar regions and even space travel.
The team developed a thermoregulatory clothing system that combines an organic photovoltaic module with bidirectional electrocaloric devices that are capable of heating or cooling. Not only are both components flexible, which is important in clothing, but they also run off sunlight, meaning there's no need to carry around an external power source.
The clothing is designed to extend the standard human thermal comfort zone from 22° – 28°C (71.6 – 82.4 F) to 12.5° – 37.6°C (54.5 – 99.6 F).
The device is efficient enough to give 24 hours' worth of power from 12 hours of sunlight. According to the description, it also has a simple structure, compact design, and can be integrated into existing clothing.
"It is possible to imagine a future of all-weather thermal management that is not limited by an energy supply and where extra collected energy might even power electronic devices under special conditions," the researchers wrote in a separate article.
Clothes that actively and passively cool wearers are becoming more popular as temperatures keep rising. In August, we heard about the number of global businesses offering outdoor-based employees cooling vests – vests stuffed with packs of water or phase change materials designed to melt over the course of a day, keeping users cool for many hours. There are also vests with built-in water pumps; some are made from highly breathable fabric; and there are those that come with embedded fans.
While not solar-powered or flexible, Sony released the Reon Pocket in 2020. This device is essentially a wearable air conditioner designed to be placed just below a user's neck in a pocket knit inside special polyester fabric undershirts.
Masthead: Gustavo Fring