Pauline van Dongen collaborated with Christiaan Holland from the HAN University of Applied Sciences and solar energy expert Gert Jan Jongerden on the Wearable Solar project, which aims to integrate photovoltaic technology into comfortable and fashionable clothing.
"Wearable Solar is about integrating solar cells into fashion, so by augmenting a garment with solar cells the body can be an extra source of energy," Van Dongen told Dezeen at the Wearable Futures conference in London. "It's really about the true integration of technology and fashion, which can transcend the realm of gadgets."
The dress features 72 flexible cells attached to panels on the front of the garment that can be folded outwards to capture sunlight. Forty-eight rigid crystal solar panels are incorporated into leather flaps on the jacket's shoulders and waist so they can be revealed when the sun shines and hidden when not in use.
A standard charging plug connects the solar panels directly to a mobile device, and Van Dongen claimed that a garment exposed to direct sunlight for one hour could capture enough energy to charge a typical smartphone to 50 percent capacity.
Van Dongen said the comfort and weight of these garments could be improved by experimenting with flexible photovoltaic cells, adding that other hardware such as batteries also needs to be refined before wearable technology will become part of everyday life.
"Wearability is very important to my work because I am a fashion designer," explained Van Dongen. "We're dealing here with the human body and it's not just a static body, it's dealing with movement and expressions, a sensory surface so it's very important to stress the wearability."
"We're not very far away from people actually wearing these garments that I design," said Van Dongen, adding that the project team are also currently seeking investment to translate it into a commercially viable enterprise.
"I think it's important to see which technologies are really ready to be implemented, how people would deal with them, how people would feel in those clothes, what it could mean to them. And of course looking at the cost of these technologies. If you're integrating 80 solar cells then of course you're adding to the cost and you have to look at how much people are willing to pay for it."
The project is being presented at Wearable Futures, an event showcasing innovations in wearable technologies which is taking place in London from 10-11 December.
Here is some more information from the designer:
Solar cells have been constructed to capture solar light and convert it into electricity. Their internal structure is layered and resembles the stratified cells of the human body, which naturally interacts with sunlight. If a body is augmented with solar cells it will embody enough electrical power to become a real source of energy. For the Wearable Solar project, a coat and a dress have been designed placing solar cells close to the body.
The two wool and leather prototypes comprise parts with solar cells which can be revealed when the sun shines or folded away and worn invisibly when they aren’t directly needed. The coat incorporates 48 rigid solar cells while the dress 72 flexible solar cells. Each of them, if worn in the full sun for an hour, can store enough energy to allow a typical smartphone to be 50% charged. The Sun is the biggest source of energy on earth and now that fossil fuels are depleting, it’s time we come up with a sustainable alternative.
The multi-disciplinary team behind Wearable Solar is composed by: Pauline van Dongen, Christiaan Holland (Project leader Gelderland Valoriseert from the HAN) and Gert Jan Jongerden (Solar-energy expert).
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