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Have Your Battery and Knit It, Too: How Chinese Researchers Advance Wearable Tech

Imagine a fiber that also doubles as a battery powering lights and potentially other electronics, unlocking a dazzling world of luminescent textiles and fabrics. That scenario is now a reality, thanks to promising new technology out of Shenzhen, China and Hong Kong.

A group of researchers led by Chunyi Zi published a report in ACS Nano, a publication of the American Chemical Society, documenting their breakthough in wearable technology. The team developed a flexible, stretchable, waterproof yarn battery that continues working even after it’s been chopped up.

How did they do it? First, they manipulated carbon nanotube fibers into a yarn, treating alternating yarns with either zinc or magnesium oxide to form the anode and the cathode that are two of the parts necessary to create a working battery. Then they twisted those yarns into a double-helix structure and coated the result with polyacrimide electrolyte—the third component necessary for a battery to operate—and then secured the structure in a silicone casing.

The researchers cut a 3 foot six inch length of the battery-yarn into eight separate pieces, knitting them into a textile belt glowing with 100 LED lights and a flexible, bendable 40-inch lit-up fabric panel. This kind of high-tech yarn proof of concept could potentially create large-scale textile displays as well as novel apparel featuring glowing, eye-catching patterns and designs. Other applications could be in athletic apparel for safety and nighttime visibility.

Interest in wearable tech is heating up. Though smartwatches and the like have garnered early interest, a new report shows that connected clothing will power the wearables sector over the next 24 months with a compounded annual growth rate of 102 percent, according to Juniper Research, which cites Under Armour, Lumo and Sensoria as companies investing in and bringing to market smart, connected fabrics.