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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Note on Emerging Science

Air Date: Week of

Solar-powered threads could be the future of wardrobe design, at least for the military. Mitra Taj reports.


TAJ: In the battlefield of the future, the uniform might make the soldier.

Modern warfare has become increasingly battery powered - with night-vision goggles, networked computers, and laser-range finders essential to basic missions. Indeed, the average U.S. soldier needs 88 AA batteries for a five-day mission. But new technology—and the sun—might help lighten the load.


Researchers in Florida have made a machine for the military that can weave threads made of solar-powered batteries into cloth. This cloth can be made into uniforms to unburden foot soldiers of heavy battery packs and reduce the need for battery changes in the middle of combat.

By controlling the temperatures of materials separately, the machine can spin threads—out of polymers, metals, and maybe even genetically engineered viruses—into intricate nanoscale patterns.

Some of these threads are a fraction the thickness of a human hair. When they’re made out of battery electrodes and photovoltaic and fuel cells and then stitched together, they constitute a fabric that captures and stores energy while it’s worn.

The new technology might help in civilian life too, boosting efforts to make environmentally friendly power sources that multitask—imagine a jacket that keeps you warm while charging your cell phone.

If wearable power catches on, keeping connected in the future might be as easy as getting dressed in the morning and staying on the sunny side of the street.

That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Mitra Taj.



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