We've featured plenty of clothing that can do impressive, gadget geek-pleasing things, from sneakers that harvest kinetic energy to t-shirts that produce electricity from sound waves. This latest technology doesn't actually generate power, but it can store it, reported the BBC. In the future, your t-shirt will be a wearable power pack.
Xiaodong Li, of the University of South Carolina, and post-doctoral associate Lihong Bao, have converted cotton fibers into a high-performing supercapacitor. The process is simple and low-impact: It doesn't require huge amounts of energy, rely on harmful chemicals or produce dangerous waste material. Li and Bao take a regular cotton t-shirt, soak it in a fluoride solution, and bake it at a high temperature in an oxygen-free environment (so the fabric doesn't burn or combust).
The process converts the surfaces of the cotton fibers from cellulose to activated carbon, without losing flexibility. Li and Bao use small swatches of the t-shirt as electrodes, effectively turning the t-shirt into capacitor, which can store an electric charge. In fact, it's actually a supercapacitor, based on the amount of electricity it can store. To make it stable and improve performance, Li and Bao coat each fiber with a nanometer of manganese oxide. The souped-up t-shirts maintan 95% of functionality after thousands of charge-discharge cycles.
The upsides to this new tech are obvious. It could eliminate the need to produce bulky, wasteful power packs for those who spend a lot of time on the road, replacing them with a material most of us already wear everyday. The important thing is to make sure that the electricity Li and Bao's t-shirt stores is produced from a renewable source.