Scientists have developed a technique to print batteries directly on cotton fabric using graphene, an advance that could power smart electronic textiles in the future.
The current hurdle with wearable technology is how to power devices without the need for cumbersome battery packs.
Devices known as supercapacitors are one way to achieve this. A supercapacitor acts similarly to a battery but allows for rapid charging which can fully charge devices in seconds.
Researchers from The University of Manchester in the UK developed a flexible supercapacitor device by using conductive graphene-oxide ink to print onto cotton fabric.
The printed electrodes exhibited excellent mechanical stability due to the strong interaction between the ink and textile substrate.
Further development of graphene-oxide printed supercapacitors could turn the vast potential of wearable technology into the norm.
High-performance sportswear that monitors performance, embedded health-monitoring devices, lightweight military gear, new classes of mobile communication devices and even wearable computers are just some of the applications that could become available following further research and development.
To power these new wearable devices, the energy storage system must have reasonable mechanical flexibility in addition to high energy and power density, good operational safety, long cycling life and be low cost.
"The development of graphene-based flexible textile supercapacitor using a simple and scalable printing technique is a significant step towards realising multifunctional next generation wearable e-textiles," said Nazmul Karim, from the UK National Graphene Institute.
"It will open up possibilities of making an environmental friendly and cost-effective smart e-textile that can store energy and monitor human activity and physiological condition at the same time," said Karim.
Graphene-oxide is a form of graphene which can be produced relatively cheaply in an ink-like solution.
This solution can be applied to textiles to create supercapacitors which become part of the fabric itself.
"Textiles are some of the most flexible substrates, and for the first time, we printed a stable device that can store energy and be as flexible as cotton," said Amor Abdelkader, from University of Manchester.
"The device is also washable, which makes it practically possible to use it for the future smart clothes. We believe this work will open the door for printing other types of devices on textile using 2D-materials inks," said Abdelkader.