Research explores conductive nanocoatings on textiles

Researchers at North Carolina State University are exploring ways to deposit conductive nanocoatings on simple textiles.

‘Normally, conductive nanocoatings are applied to inorganic materials [such as] silicon. If we can find a way to apply them to textiles — cheap, flexible materials with a contorted surface texture — it would represent a cost-effective approach and framework for improving current and future types of electronic devices,’ said Dr Jesse Jur, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science, and lead author of a paper describing the research.

Using atomic layer deposition, coatings of inorganic materials — typically used in devices such as solar cells, sensors and microelectronics — were grown on the surface of textiles such as woven cotton and non-woven polypropylene, showing that common textile materials can be used for complex electronic devices.

As part of their study, the researchers created a procedure to quantify effective electrical conductivity of conductive coatings on textile materials.

According to a statement, the current standard of measuring conductivity uses a four-point probe that applies a current between two probes and senses a voltage between the other two probes.

However, these probes were too small and would not give the most accurate reading for measurements on textiles. In the paper, researchers describe a new technique using larger probes that accurately measure the conductivity of the nanocoating.

This new system is said to give researchers a better understanding of how to apply coatings on textiles to turn them into conductive devices.

‘We’re not expecting to make complex transistors with cotton, but there are simple electronic devices that could benefit by using the lightweight flexibility that some textile materials provide,’ said Jur. ‘Research [such as] this has potential health and monitoring applications since we could potentially create a uniform with cloth sensors embedded in the actual material that could track heart rate, body temperature, movement and more in real time.’

Jur added: ‘In the world of electronics, smaller and more lightweight is always the ideal. If we can improve the process of how to apply and measure conductive coatings on textiles, we may move the needle in creating devices that have the requisite conductive properties, with all the benefits that using natural textile materials affords us.’

A paper describing the research is published in the June issue of Advanced Functional Materials.