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This Printed Battery Technology Could Give Wearables a Boost

A group of U.K. researchers are powering up smart textiles with a new development.

On Wednesday, University of Manchester researchers unveiled flexible battery-like devices that could solve charging issues for wearable technology. Dubbed supercapacitors, these devices are printed directly onto textiles and enable rapid charging without the need for heavy battery packs.

According to the journal, “2-D Materials,” these solid-state flexible supercapacitors are strengthened by conductive graphene-oxide ink printed onto smart textiles. As a form of graphene, the graphene-oxide can be created affordably and applied to textiles easily for charging capabilities. These printed electrodes possess excellent mechanical stability, due to the strong bond between the textile substrate and the graphene-oxide ink.

Further research on graphene-oxide printed supercapacitors could accelerate wearable technology in upcoming years. With additional development, high-performance sportswear that monitors physical activity, embedded health-regulating devices and wearable computers could become available in the future. Since these new wearable devices require a flexible energy storage system and high-power density, the supercapacitors will be able to charge them quickly without disruptions.

“The development of graphene-based flexible textile supercapacitor using a simple and scalable printing technique is a significant step towards releasing multifunctional next generation wearable e-textiles,” said Dr. Nazmul Karim, National Graphene Institute knowledge exchange fellow. “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.”

The University of Manchester is also working on its second major graphene facility. Slated to be completed next year, the $78 million Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) facility will complement the National Graphene Institute (NGI) and serve as an international research hub. The facility will allow the U.K. to become a leader in graphene research and other 2-D material capabilities for smart textiles.

“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,” research co-author Dr. Amor Abdelkader added. “We believe this work will open the door for printing other types of devices on textile using 2-D material inks.”