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Self-powering smart fabric to change the future of wearable tech

Photo Credit: RMIT Univesity

The researchers behind a new e-textile technology have imagined a future wherein the next generation of waterproof smart fabrics will be laser printed and made within minutes.

According to a recent press release, scientists from Australia’s RMIT University have developed a cost-efficient and scalable method for rapidly fabricating textiles that are embedded with energy storage devices.

Self-powering smart fabric

Within three minutes, the method is able to produce a 10x10cm smart textile patch that is waterproof, stretchable and readily integrated with energy harvesting technologies.

The technology enables graphene supercapacitors, which are powerful and long-lasting energy storage devices that are easily combined with solar or other sources of power, to be laser printed directly onto textiles.

The researchers, in a proof-of-concept, connected the supercapacitor with a solar cell, delivering an efficient, washable and self-powering smart fabric.

This overcomes the key drawbacks of existing e-textile energy storage technologies.

Background of the project

The growing smart fabrics industry has diverse applications in wearable devices for the consumer, health care and defence sectors.

This includes monitoring vital signs of patients, tracking the location and health status of soldiers in the field, and monitoring pilots or drivers for fatigue.

A researcher from the University’s School of Science, Dr Litty Thekkakara, explained that smart textiles with built-in sensing, wireless communication or health monitoring technology called for robust and reliable energy solutions.

According to her, current approaches to smart textile energy storage, like stitching batteries into garments or using e-fibres, can be cumbersome and heavy, and can also have capacity issues.

In addition, these electronic components can also suffer short-circuits and mechanical failure when they come into contact with sweat or with moisture from the environment.

The research analysed the performance of the proof-of-concept smart textile across a range of mechanical, temperature and washability tests and found it remained stable and efficient.

Utilising technology

RMIT Honorary Professor and Distinguished Professor at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, Min Gu, shared that the technology could enable real-time storage of renewable energies for e-textiles.

Furthermore, it opens the possibility for faster roll-to-roll fabrication, with the use of advanced laser printing based on multifocal fabrication and machine learning techniques.

The researchers have applied for a patent for the new technology, which was developed with support from the University’s Seed Fund and Design Hub project grants.

The graphene-based supercapacitor is not only fully washable, but it can also store the energy needed to power an intelligent garment. More importantly, it can be made within minutes at large scale.

Hopefully, they can power the next generation of wearable technology and intelligent clothing by solving the energy storage-related challenges of e-textiles.

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