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Ink-jet printed energy storage devices on textiles: powering the next generation of smart clothing

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Printable technology to enable the next generation of smart clothing

The internet of things is already connecting your home and car. Thanks to new printable energy storage devices, soon, your clothes could be connected too.

Industrial Technologies

Thanks to the development of smart fabrics, also known as electronic textiles, or e-textiles, soon your clothes could be connected to the internet of things (IoT). “Wearable e-textiles are designed to perform various electronic functions and have the potential to add new features into everyday textiles,” says Valeria Nicolosi, a professor of Nanomaterials and Advanced Microscopy at Trinity College Dublin. According to Nicolosi, the e-textile market is not confined to just the clothing industry, but also includes the medical, transportation, energy and communication sectors. “Power generators, sensors, antennas and lights have already been embedded in the textiles used for curtains, self-heating seats, and health monitoring wearable devices,” explains Nicolosi. The next generation of e-textiles will allow for gesture control. However, achieving this functionality requires the use of highly integrated sensors and increased power supply. “The power supply is traditionally the bottleneck in the development of smart textiles,” notes Nicolosi. “This is because today’s power supplies are rather inflexible and heavy, making it difficult to seamlessly integrate them into electronic textiles.” This is where the European Research Council supported Powering_eTextiles project comes in. “Our goal is to develop the high-performance energy storage devices that will enable the next generation of smart wearables and textile-based electronics,” remarks Nicolosi, who serves as the project coordinator.

Printable devices

To develop such a solution, the project turned to inkjet printing and ultrathin two-dimensional (2D) nanosheet materials. “Using our wealth of expertise in the field of printed 2D inks, we developed a highly efficient, flexible, wash-resistant energy storage device that can be used in a variety of textiles, including cotton, polycotton and polyester,” adds Nicolosi. As Nicolosi explains, fully printed wearable electronics based on 2D materials require robust and reproducible printed multilayer stacks. These stacks consist of a current collector, active electrode materials, and gel electrolyte. With the exfoliation of layered materials, the stacks can be printed using low-cost inks and via a traditional inkjet printer. “Because these devices can be printed, they will make the production of smart fabrics both cheaper and scalable,” says Nicolosi. “Thanks to their flexibility and minimalist size, they will also improve the quality and special effect capabilities of the fabrics.”

The best is yet to come

While Nicolosi is proud of having developed a power supply solution for advanced e-fabrics, what she’s most excited about is yet to come. “I’m looking forward to having this technology used in real applications and seeing what new capabilities it will enable,” she says. Although the Powering_eTextiles project is now over, Nicolosi’s work is not. She is currently busy conducting further research to advance the power supply solutions towards commercialisation. She is also engaging with industry stakeholders to conduct product testing. “In science, nothing stops – and this project has planted the seeds for so many ideas to be tried and tested,” concludes Nicolosi. “When these ideas all come together, the result will be a solution that we use in our everyday lives.”

Keywords

Powering_eTextiles, printable technology, smart clothing, internet of things, IoT, smart fabrics, electronic textiles, e-textiles, textiles, energy storage devices, inkjet printing

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