Nanotechnology Turning Your Cotton T-Shirt and Polyester Pants Into Batteries

carbon nanotube fabric image

Images via PhysOrg (Credit: American Chemical Society) and BBC (Credit: Nanoletters)

Stanford University researchers aren't stopping at paper when it comes to exploring how carbon nanotubes can be used to create thin, flexible batteries. They've moved on from paper and ink to cotton and polyester. Looking at combining carbon nanotubes and fabrics, the research team is bringing us closer to having wearable electronics and conductive fabrics. The work, published in Nano Letters, expands on the science behind lightweight, flexible, and wearable electronics. Think about that cool turn signal jacket for cyclists that uses conductive thread and to make LED lights flash with just a touch of the hand to the sleeve. And all those concept designs for clothing that charges a device while you walk are a little less futuristic.

The researchers state that "with an extremely simple "dipping and drying" process using single-walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) ink" the fabric is turned into highly conductive textiles.

BBC reports, "The interwoven fibres of fabrics, like those of paper, are particularly suited to absorbing the nanotube ink, maintaining an electrical connection across the whole area of a garment. Cloth is simply dipped into a batch of nanotube dye, and is then pressed, to thin and even out the coating. The fabric maintains its properties even as it is stretched or folded. Even rinsing the samples in water and wringing them out does not change their electronic properties."

There is still a lot of research needed in this area, such as how the fabric can be applied to more useful batteries, the safety factors of having carbon nanotubes in fabric that could be worn against human skin, exactly how much more efficient this is over current battery technology, how long the storage capacity will last, and many other important elements. However, the researchers feel that this could be a next step for wearable solar cells, giving our clothing the ability to charge - or become - our gadgets.

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