Finding the correct platform and materials to create truly smart textiles has been the subject of much interest and research in recent years. Now the quest has taken a key step with a new technique using graphene.
An international team of scientists, led by Professor Monica Craciun from the University of Exeter Engineering department, has developed a way to create electronic fibers that can be incorporated into the production of everyday clothing.
Wearable electronics have so far typically been created by gluing devices to fabrics, but that often makes the fabrics rigid and malfunctioning likely. However, the new development integrates the electronic devices into the material by coating electronic fibers with lightweight, durable components to allow images to be shown directly on the fabric. Graphene is considered the thinnest substance capable of conducting electricity, the team noted, and is highly flexible, offering key qualities for apparel.
“For truly wearable electronic devices to be achieved, it is vital that the components are able to be incorporated within the material, and not simply added to it,” Craciun, co-author of the research said.
The new technique employs polypropylene fibers that are common in a range of commercial applications in the textile industry to attach the new, graphene-based electronic fibers to create touch-sensor and light-emitting devices.
“This new research opens up the gateway for smart textiles to play a pivotal role in so many fields in the not-too-distant future,” said Dr. Elias Torres Alonso, research scientist at Graphenea and a former doctorate student in Craciun’s team at Exeter. “By weaving the graphene fibers into the fabric, we have created a new technique for the full integration of electronics into textiles.”
Professor Saverio Russo, also a co-author, from the University of Exeter Physics Department, added, “The incorporation of electronic devices on fabrics is something that scientists have tried to produce for a number of years and is a truly game-changing advancement for modern technology.”
The discovery, according to the research team, could be a milestone for wearable electronic devices as it allows them to be used in a range of everyday applications, as well as for health monitoring.
The development comes as graphene has started making its way into textile and footwear products.
Last year, Directa Plus, a producer and supplier of graphene-based products for use in consumer and industrial markets, entered into an exclusive collaboration agreement with Arvind Ltd., one of India’s leading textile manufacturers, to infuse the high-performance benefits of Directa Plus’ G+ graphene-based products into its denim fabrics. Directa Plus said its graphene-based products can be used to alter or enhance the properties of conventional denim fabrics and to make smart clothing for different end uses and environments.
British brand Inov-8 teamed up with scientific experts at the University of Manchester to use graphene in the makeup of running sneakers. The company chose to incorporate graphene in its footwear, as lab tests have shown that the rubber outsoles of shoes with graphene add more stretch and durability.