Circuits added to fabrics with perovskites and inkjet printing

Medical fabrics that deliver drugs or monitor wounds could be manufactured more efficiently with a method involving perovskites and an inkjet printing process.

Perovskite structure (Image: OSU College of Engineering)

The breakthrough by Oregon State University researchers will allow circuits to be applied with precision, and at low processing temperatures, directly onto cloth. The team, including Rutgers University researchers, believe their solution provides a potential solution to the longstanding trade-off between performance and fabrication costs.

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“Much effort has gone into integrating sensors, displays, power sources and logic circuits into various fabrics for the creation of wearable, electronic textiles,” said Chih-Hung Chang, professor of chemical engineering at Oregon State. “One hurdle is that fabricating rigid devices on cloth, which has a surface that’s both porous and non-uniform, is tedious and expensive, requiring a lot of heat and energy, and is hard to scale up. And first putting the devices onto something solid, and then putting that solid substrate onto fabric, is problematic too – it limits the flexibility and wearability of the fabric and also can necessitate cumbersome changes to the fabric manufacturing process itself.”

Chang and collaborators in the OSU College of Engineering and at Rutgers University tackled those challenges by coming up with a stable, printable ink, based on binary metal iodide salts, that thermally transforms into a dense compound of cesium, tin and iodine. The resulting film of Cs2SnI6 has a crystal structure that makes it a perovskite. Materials with a perovskite structure based on a metal and a halogen are semiconductors, which are essential components of most electrical circuits.

Thanks to the perovskite film, Chang’s team was able to inkjet print negative-temperature-coefficient thermistors directly onto woven polyester at temperatures as low as 120oC.

“A change in resistance due to heat is generally not a good thing in a standard resistor, but the effect can be useful in many temperature detection circuits,” Chang said in a statement. “NTC [negative-temperature-coefficient] thermistors can be used in virtually any type of equipment where temperature plays a role. Even small temperature changes can cause big changes in their resistance, which makes them ideal for accurate temperature measurement and control.”

The research, which included Shujie Li and Alex Kosek of the OSU College of Engineering and Mohammad Naim Jahangir and Rajiv Malhotra of Rutgers University, demonstrates directly fabricating high-performance NTC thermistors onto fabrics at half the temperature used by current manufacturers, Chang said.

“In addition to requiring more energy, the higher temperatures create compatibility issues with many fabrics,” he said. “The simplicity of our ink, the process’ scalability and the thermistor performance are all promising for the future of wearable e-textiles.”

The team’s results are detailed in Advanced Functional Materials.