At the heart of the technology are graphene supercapacitors, powerful and long-lasting energy storage devices that can easily be combined with solar or other sources of power. The RMIT team used laser printing to embed the supercapacitors into fabrics. According to the researchers, the technique can produce a 10x10cm smart textile patch in three minutes that's waterproof, stretchable and easily integrated with energy harvesting technology. It’s believed the e-textiles could have applications in consumer, healthcare and defence markets.
In a proof-of-concept, the team connected the supercapacitor with a solar cell, delivering an efficient, washable and self-powering smart fabric that they claim overcomes the key drawbacks of existing e-textile energy storage technologies. The research analysed the performance of the textile across a range of mechanical, temperature and washability tests and found it remained stable and efficient. The work is published in Scientific Reports.
Dr Litty Thekkakara, a researcher in RMIT's School of Science, said smart textiles with built-in sensing, wireless communication or health monitoring technology called for robust and reliable energy solutions.
"Current approaches to smart textile energy storage, like stitching batteries into garments or using e-fibres, can be cumbersome and heavy, and can also have capacity issues," Dr Thekkakara said.
"These electronic components can also suffer short-circuits and mechanical failure when they come into contact with sweat or with moisture from the environment. Our graphene-based supercapacitor is not only fully washable, it can store the energy needed to power an intelligent garment - and it can be made in minutes at large scale.
"By solving the energy storage-related challenges of e-textiles, we hope to power the next generation of wearable technology and intelligent clothing."
The researchers have applied for a patent for the new technology, which was developed with support from RMIT Seed Fund and Design Hub project grants.