Researchers have developed washable, wearable 'batteries' based on cheap, safe and environmentally friendly inks and woven directly into fabrics. The devices could be used for flexible circuits, healthcare monitoring, energy conversion, and other applications.
The team, led by Dr Felice Torrisi, who recently joined Imperial from the University of Cambridge, have shown how graphene - an atom-thick sheet of carbon - and other related materials can be directly incorporated into fabrics. Within the fabric, the materials produce charge storage elements such as capacitors, paving the way to textile-based power supplies which are washable, flexible and comfortable to wear. For more information see the IDTechEx report on Graphene, 2D Materials and Carbon Nanotubes.
The research, published in the journal Nanoscale, demonstrates that graphene inks can be used in textiles able to store electrical charge and release it when required. The new textile electronic devices are based on low-cost, sustainable and scalable dyeing of polyester fabric. The inks are produced by standard solution processing techniques. Building on previous work by the same team, the researchers designed inks which can be directly coated onto a polyester fabric in a simple dyeing process. The versatility of the process allows various types of electronic components to be incorporated into the fabric.
Cheap, safe and environmentally friendly
Most other wearable electronics rely on rigid electronic components mounted on plastic or textiles. These offer limited compatibility with the skin in many circumstances, are damaged when washed and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable.
Dr Torrisi, who did the research at the Cambridge Graphene Centre and recently moved to the Molecular Sciences Research Hub at Imperial, said: "Other techniques to incorporate electronic components directly into textiles are expensive to produce and usually require toxic solvents, which makes them unsuitable to be worn. "Our inks are cheap, safe and environmentally friendly, and can be combined to create electronic circuits by simply overlaying different fabrics made of two-dimensional materials on the fabric."
The researchers suspended individual graphene sheets in a low boiling point solvent, which is easily removed after deposition on the fabric, resulting in a thin and uniform conducting network made up of multiple graphene sheets. The subsequent overlay of several graphene and hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) fabrics creates an active region, which enables charge storage. This sort of 'battery' on fabric is bendable and can withstand washing cycles in a normal washing machine.
Turning textiles into functional energy storage
Co-author Professor Chaoxia Wang, from Jiangnan University in China, said: "Textile dyeing has been around for centuries using simple pigments, but our result demonstrates for the first time that inks based on graphene and related materials can be used to produce textiles that could store and release energy. Our process is scalable and there are no fundamental obstacles to the technological development of wearable electronic devices both in terms of their complexity and performance."
The work opens a number of commercial opportunities for ink based on two-dimensional materials, ranging from personal health and well-being technology, to wearable energy and data storage, military garments, wearable computing and fashion.
Dr Torrisi added: "Turning textiles into functional energy storage elements can open up an entirely new set of applications, from body-energy harvesting and storage to the Internet of Things. In the future our clothes could incorporate these textile-based charge storage elements and power wearable textile devices."
Source: Imperial College London
Top image: Pixabay
Learn more at the next leading event on the topic: Healthcare Sensor Innovations USA 2020 on 18 - 19 Nov 2020 at Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, USA hosted by IDTechEx.