Wearable electronic components incorporated directly into fabrics have been developed that could be used for flexible circuits, healthcare monitoring, energy conversion, and other applications. Graphene — a two-dimensional form of carbon — and other related materials can be directly incorporated into fabrics to produce charge storage elements such as capacitors, paving the way to textile-based power supplies that are washable, flexible, and comfortable to wear.
The graphene inks can be used in textiles able to store electrical charge and release it when required. The new textile electronic devices are based on low-cost, sustainable, and scalable dyeing of polyester fabric. The inks are produced by standard solution processing techniques. The versatility of the process allows various types of electronic components to be incorporated into the fabric.
Most other wearable electronics rely on rigid electronic components mounted on plastic or textiles. These offer limited compatibility with the skin in many circumstances, are damaged when washed, and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable. In addition, electronic components for textiles are expensive to produce and usually require toxic solvents, which makes them unsuitable to be worn. The new inks are environmentally friendly and can be combined to create electronic circuits by simply overlaying different fabrics made of two-dimensional materials on the fabric.
The researchers suspended individual graphene sheets in a low-boiling-point solvent that is easily removed after deposition on the fabric, resulting in a thin and uniform conducting network made up of multiple graphene sheets. The subsequent overlay of several graphene and hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) fabrics creates an active region that enables charge storage. This sort of “battery” on fabric is bendable and can withstand washing cycles in a normal washing machine.
The work opens commercial opportunities for ink based on two-dimensional materials, ranging from personal health and well-being technology, to wearable energy and data storage, military garments, wearable computing, and fashion.