In Brief
Researchers at Dracula Technologies have devised a method to charge cell phones with ambient light. They have created thin, flexible solar cells that can be printed in any shape or color using an inkjet printer.

Light-Powered

These days, we use our cell phones for a lot more than just making calls. Smartphones have become essential tools for monitoring our health, interacting with our vehicles, and entering the world of augmented reality.

But these expanded smartphone functions have brought with them the need for us to find new ways to keep our cell phones charged. Recently, some have attempted to power smartphones through wireless power transmission or by capturing the kinetic energy of the user’s movements.  Now, researchers have devised a method to charge cell phones with ambient light.

Scientists at Dracula Technologies, a French solar energy company, have developed “LAYER” technology — short for “Light As Your Energetic Response.” Essentially, LAYERs are thin, flexible solar cells that can be manufactured using an inkjet printer.

A Printed Charger

These cost-effective, foldable sheets are composed of a unique conductive plastic that can capture energy from both solar and artificial light — making this technology much more versatile than many of its predecessors. A LAYER could either be printed onto the electronic device itself, or a larger sheet could be fixed to something that might capture more light, such as a backpack. That object, then, would be hooked up to the device.

“You can imagine printing it on a t-shirt and using that to charge your phone,” Sadok Ben Dkhil, a materials physicist with Dracula Technologies, said in an interview with New Scientist.

These solar cells only take about an hour to print and can be customized in shape and color, or even transparent. While the researchers are still looking for ways to shorten the time it takes the solar cells to charge cell phones, they are confident that the technology is almost ready for real-world applications.

“In a few months’ time, we should be able to charge a smartphone,” Ben Dkhil said in the interview.