Solar panels could someday replace buttons and zippers as the most important parts of some types of clothing. Iowa State University doctoral student Joe Hynek is trying to develop clothing with solar panels, but his quest has more to do with being practical than it does with fashion. He says he’s trying to make it more convenient for people to use their cellphones instead of having to plug them in to charge every night. And he says it would cut down on the need for disposable batteries. Hynek says the solar panels could also charge batteries for P-D-A’s and other electronic devices. He says fashion sense does come into play as he tries to integrate the solar panels into the clothing. He says it’s a huge “engineering optimization problem,” as he says you have to determine how many solar panels to put on the clothing based on how much power a person will need. Hynek says you can’t have a shirt made exclusively out of solar panels, as it would look weird, and wouldn’t be intrusive. He says there are other problems too. He says you still have to have a battery in the system and that adds weight. So he says you have to figure out how many batteries to have in with the solar panels. Hynek says right now he’s trying to come up with a purse, or hat or shirt that can charge batteries and still be practical. He says he has to figure out what people need and figure out how to actually make the solar panels hang onto the clothing and be maintained. He says the washing machine is a “big scare” he’s trying to work out. Hynek already won a contest for a purse that has solar panels and can charge batteries. His latest work is part of a grant to I-S-U in hopes of developing products that can lead to a new company. He says he has some prototypes made and hopes to have workable products ready pretty soon. Hynek is using thin solar panels made by Iowa Thin Film Technologies. Hynek says there’s a wide market with all the people who use the electronic devices and require batteries to keep them on the go.
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