Research into new power technologies for wearables continues on many fronts. With tech worn on the wrist, pinned to or integrated with garments, or embedded in prostheses, choosing the best power source can be tricky. We’ve written about innovative power tech such as biofuel-powered sensors, conductive threads and micro-supercapacitors woven into garments, and kinetic energy generated by walking.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group recently published their developments with solar-powered supercapacitors for flexible electronics, especially embedded in prosthetics in Advanced Science. The BEST team, headed by Professor Ravinda Dahiya, created a flexible supercapacitor that generates and stores solar energy sufficient to power a prosthetic hand. According to Dahiya, earlier supercapacitors produced only limited power levels, one volt or less. The BEST supercapacitor puts out 2.5 volts, sufficient for a broad range of applications.

The Glasgow tech’s top layer, or e-skin, consists of one-atom-thick carbon layers of graphene. The touch-sensitive-e-skin is flexible and transparent. As sunlight passes through the graphene layer, flexible photovoltaic cells below the top layer generate power, which is stored in the team’s supercapacitors. One of the technology breakthroughs involves the balance of energy ready-for-use immediately and stored surplus energy. According to Dahiya, cycle durability tests charged, discharged, and charged the supercapacitor again 15,000 times with no significant loss in functional capability or capacity.

The BEST group demonstrated the solar-powered supercapacitor’s ability to power a prosthetic hand with 84-LEDs and high-torque motors. According to Dahiya, the flexible supercapacitor e-skin gets the BEST team closer to its goal of fully self-sufficient solar power generation and storage tech that could be used not only for prosthetics and health monitors, but even for electric vehicles.