Natural-fiber clothing that can power your smartphone

Researchers at Colorado State University are working to create natural-fiber outdoor clothing that can harness the sun's energy to charge MP3 devices, tablets, computers and cell phones.

The clothes on your back could someday keep your smartphone, computer and MP3 devices charged and ready to use, thanks to research underway at Colorado State University.

CSU researchers and students are working to develop natural-fiber outdoor clothing with built-in solar panels. The project was recently selected to compete in a sustainability design competition this weekend in Washington D.C.

The end-goal is to fight pollution on two fronts.  Eulanda Sanders and Ajoy Sarkar, associate professors with CSU's Department of Design and Merchandising, are working with four students to develop natural-fiber clothing that contains the same UV protection, warmth and moisture wicking features found in the petroleum-based textiles that outdoor enthusiasts covet. The project also aims to turn the clothing into a source of solar energy that can power electronic devices and help reduce alkaline battery use.

There are other solar-powered outdoor clothing products on the market. But the researchers say few products currently available are made with petroleum-based textiles and are functionally flawed with solar panels that are difficult to launder or wear. The team aims to change that by only using UV-treated natural fiber fabric like cotton or linen. They've found the right combination of fabric and weave, thickness, weight, dyeing and finishing of natural fabrics protect from UV rays.

To date, the team has developed prototypes of three jackets, a vest and two helmets-- one ski helmet with Bluetooth capabilities and one that could be used by the military. In the second phase of design, the team is considering clothing that could be used by road construction workers. The project was funded by a $15,000 grant from the EPA.

Of course, turning these prototypes into market-ready products will be a much larger challenge. The clothing will have to be functional and stylish, effective at powering devices, comfortable to wear and easy to wash. And while outdoor geeks (myself included) are often willing to throw down a lot of money for the latest fleece jacket, we do have our limits. In other words, it can't be too expensive.

Photo:  Flickr user pranav, CC 2.0

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com