Carbon-Based Flexible Batteries as Power Source for E-Textiles

Technology > Material

The pace of development in wearable technology hinges on finding the perfect solution to power such devices.  Supplying energy for wearables demands a very flexible, quick-charging, power-packed, long-life, low-cost, and safe storage system.

Currently, new wearable devices are powered by battery packs that are either bulky or heavy. High-tech devices that we have envisioned for the future -- high-performance sportswear, embedded health-monitoring devices, lightweight military gear, or even wearable computers -- would definitely require supercapacitors to become a reality.

A supercapacitor is a device that works like a battery but, with a supercapacitor, devices can be fully charged in a matter of seconds.  Power will not drain easily, too.

Based on a new research, the University of Manchester has found a revolutionary way to make flexible battery-like devices by using conductive graphene-oxide ink printed directly onto a cotton fabric through a simple screen-printing technique.

Graphene-oxide is a form of graphene, a hexagonal honeycomb lattice formed by a single, tightly packed layer of pure carbon.  A flexible textile supercapacitor based on graphene could pave the road for wearable technologies as the compound -- the thinnest known to man at one atom thick -- can dramatically increase the lifespan of a traditional lithium ion battery.  

Graphene could prove to be the best alternative for powering wearables for its lightness, strength, high level of light absorption, and ability to conduct heat and electricity. And since carbon is the chemical basis for all known life on earth, graphene could well be ecologically friendly too. 

With graphene, batteries will become so flexible and light, it can now be stitched into clothing.  This could be of paramount use in the military where soldiers carry heavy loads while on duty.

As reported in the journal 2D Materials, the printed electrodes exhibited excellent mechanical stability due to the strong interaction between the ink and textile substrate.

Dr. Nazmul Karim, Knowledge Exchange Fellow, the National Graphene Institute and co-author of the paper said the latest development is “a significant step towards realizing multifunctional next generation wearable e-textiles. It will open up possibilities of making an environmentally friendly and cost-effective smart e-textile that can store energy and monitor human activity and physiological condition at the same time.”

Dr. Amor Abdelkader, also co-author of the paper, said the device is washable, making it practically possible to use for future smart clothes. "We believe this work will open the door for printing other types of devices on textile using 2D-material inks."

Wearable Technology by Keoni Cabral / Flickr.com (www.flickr.com/photos/keoni101/7069578953),