Solar Ski Helmet Will Have You Charging Downhill

Solar technology has come a long way from the bulky, inefficient panels we’ve known for decades. Every month it seems we get news of a thinner, more efficient solar cell that’s under development. But even these have a limited range of application, involving mostly flat or cylindrical surfaces. Like every movie and flat screen television to hit the market these days, scientists in Germany wondered what would happen if solar panels were available in 3D too.

It may sound far-fetched, but it’s already becoming a reality. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration in Berlin (Fraunhofer IZM) have developed a new flexible solar panel that can be wrapped around 3D surfaces, like the spherical crown of a ski helmet, for example.

Solar Powered Ski Helmet

image via Fraunhofer IZM

Until now, only relatively small solar modules could be mounted on uneven surfaces. Mechanically flexible, foil-based solar cells are also unsuited to such applications, as they only bend in one direction (cylindrical) and are usually far less efficient than rigid solar cells.

Fraunhofer IZM solved these problems of durability and performance by developing extremely high quality, monocrystalline silicon solar cells that can be divided into tiny individual chips and adapted to a three-dimensional, curved shape. This unique “packaging” reduces risk of individual cells fracturing when subjected to sudden, concentrated mechanical stress. Also, by utilizing a redundant layout, users can be confident that the solar cells will keep operating smoothly even if an individual cell fails or is damaged.

Solar Powered Ski Helmet
Apparently, the team at Fraunhofer IZM could think of no more demanding environment in which to test the their 3D solar cell technology than the steep terrain of a ski resort. According to this Treehugger review, the first product they hope to make available to the public will be a ski helmet that could incorporate solar-powered head phones and Bluetooth technology for connecting smart phones and MP3 players. Although a prototype helmet has only recently gone on display, the creators plan to release it commercially by the end of the year, with an anticipated price tag of around 300 Euros.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog