The next generation of waterproof smart fabrics will be laser printed and made in minutes. That’s the future imagined by the researchers behind new e-textile technology.
Scientists from RMIT University have developed a cost-efficient and scaleable method for rapidly fabricating textiles that are embedded with energy storage devices.
In just three minutes, the method can produce a 10x10cm smart textile patch that’s waterproof, stretchable and readily integrated with energy harvesting technologies.
The technology enables graphene supercapacitors – 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.
In a proof-of-concept, the researchers connected the supercapacitor with a solar cell, delivering an efficient, washable and self-powering smart fabric that overcomes the key drawbacks of existing e-textile energy storage technologies.
The growing smart fabrics industry has diverse applications in wearable devices for consumers, healthcare and defence sectors - from monitoring vital signs of patients, to tracking the location and health status of soldiers in the field, and monitoring pilots or drivers for fatigue.
RMIT Vietnam’s School of Communication & Design Senior Lecturer Dr Rajkishore Nayak said the development of this type of technology in Vietnam will “boost [the country’s] textile segment”.
“The global fashion and textile market can be classified into two groups: apparel textiles that are used on a daily basis, and technical textiles that have increased functionality. Currently Vietnam is largely contributing to apparel production, but the technical textile sector is very low even though the demand worldwide is increasing rapidly,” Dr Nayak said.
“The development of this technology in Vietnam - to add functionality to wearable fashion in Vietnam, would increase profitability in the textile industry. Therefore, the fashion and textile industries must seek and apply advanced technologies into their product line.”
Dr Nayak went on to say that the research team’s outcome – to create dual functionality (waterproof and energy harvesting) in a textile – is “novel work [and] a great achievement”.
“The use of wearable electronics and smart textiles have been gaining impetus in renewable energy technologies. With the rapid growth of wearable electronics, the area of energy storage has attracted significant research interest for developing suitable energy storage devices. To date there is a lack of wearable, safe, reliable and cost-efficient energy storage devices.”
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.
The researchers have applied for a patent for the new technology, which was developed with support from RMIT Seed Fund and Design Hub project grants.
The research is published in Scientific Reports .
Story: Gosia Kaszubska and Lisa Humphries