Back to the Future II is one of those movies that continue to influence our imagination even though it was released way back in 1989. It foretold a bunch of advancements that we would have by the year 2015, some of which came very close to coming true, some not so much. The movie also inspired a nanotechnology scientist at the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center, Associate Professor Jayan Thomas, to try and create solar powered textiles. And he has now succeeded, so something like self-lacing shoes as worn by Marty McFly in the movie could well be available soon.
Thomas has successfully developed solar-powered filaments, which are able to harvest energy from the sun and store it. They can also be woven into textiles to create smart textiles, which would basically be a type of wearable solar-powered batteries. These batteries could then be used to charge our gadgets, while they’d also be able to perform various other functions.
The filaments Thomas created are constructed out of a thin copper ribbon, which has solar cells on one side. The other side is covered by an energy storing layer. Thomas and his team used a tabletop loom to weave these filaments into a square patch of cloth. The weaving process is very simple, and these filaments could easily be incorporated into a wide range of clothing, including jackets, sweaters, pants and more. This would be great for the average man, but the most obvious and advantageous application of this technology would probably be for military personnel. Currently, soldiers must wear batteries weighing about 30 pounds when walking in the desert heat. If solar-powered jackets were made part of their uniforms, this load would be lessened considerably.
Another potential use of it is in electric cars, though in truth the possibilities of how such solar-powered fabric could be used to pave the way to a more sustainable future are only limited by our imagination.