The smart fabrics industry has applications in wearable devices for the consumer, healthcare, and defense 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. Smart textiles with built-in sensing, wireless communication, or health monitoring technology, however, call for robust and reliable energy solutions.
Current methods of smart textile energy storage, like stitching batteries into garments or using e-fibers, can be heavy and have capacity issues. Such electronic components can also suffer short-circuits and mechanical failure when they come into contact with sweat or moisture from the environment.
A scalable method was developed for rapidly fabricating textiles that are embedded with energy storage devices. In just three minutes, the method can produce a 10 × 10-cm smart textile patch that is waterproof, stretchable, and readily integrated with energy-harvesting technologies.
The method enables graphene supercapacitors — 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, researchers connected the supercapacitor with a solar cell, delivering an efficient, washable, and self-powering smart fabric.
The graphene-based supercapacitor is fully washable and can store the energy needed to power an intelligent garment — and it can be made in minutes at large scale. The method also could enable faster roll-to-roll fabrication with the use of advanced laser printing based on multifocal fabrication and machine learning techniques.