Last week, we saw a new piece of technology that could turn a whole wall into a power source thanks to a new spray-on battery technique. Now, researchers from the University of South Carolina have announced development of a plain cotton T-shirt into something with a wearable electric charge.
The idea for creating "electrical" clothing for professor of mechanical engineering Xiaodong Li, stemmed from the idea that phones were once limited to households, then moved to cars and later into pockets.
"We wear fabric every day," said Li on the university website. "One day our cotton T-shirts could have more functions; for example, a flexible energy storage device that could charge your cell phone or your iPad."
Here's how Li and post-doctoral associate Lihong Bao have already taken steps to show how this function is possible:
Starting with a T-shirt from a local discount store, Li's team soaked it in a solution of fluoride, dried it and baked it at high temperature. They excluded oxygen in the oven to prevent the material from charring or simply combusting.
The surfaces of the resulting fibers in the fabric were shown by infrared spectroscopy to have been converted from cellulose to activated carbon. Yet the material retained flexibility; it could be folded without breaking.
The once-cotton T-shirt proved to be a repository for electricity. By using small swatches of the fabric as an electrode, the researchers showed that the flexible material, which Li's team terms activated carbon textile, acts as a capacitor. Capacitors are components of nearly every electronic device on the market, and they have the ability to store electrical charge.
From there, the researchers used "nanostructured manganese oxide" on the fabric, which Li said created "a stable, high-performing supercapacitor."
In addition to being successful at holding a charge with the potential for powering devices, Li said the process was inexpensive and environmentally friendly.
The research was published in the journal Advanced Materials.