Blog: Leonie BarrieFrom T-shirt to ‘e-shirt’

Leonie Barrie | 22 January 2010

An exciting new development could take the concept of wearable electronics to a new level after researchers managed to turn ordinary cotton and polyester fabrics into rechargeable batteries by dyeing them with an ‘ink’ made of carbon nanotubes.

Until now, clothing designed with built-in switches or joysticks to control equipment for electronic entertainment, particularly iPods, has tended to be bulky and inflexible. The key components are smart textiles which are sensitive to pressure, and which can be stitched, stapled or glued.

There are also special conductive yarns which can be woven into a textile to control electronic devices – but all of these are new textiles offering new functions through the integration of technology.

The latest approach turns this on its head by taking ordinary fabrics and simply and cheaply turning them into materials that store electricity. The fabric is simply dipped into a batch of nanotube dye, which maintains an electrical connection across the whole area of a garment. And crucially, the fabrics retain their flexibility, stretch and handle even after repeated laundering.

Clearly there’s still a lot of work to be done on the concept, but it seems to be one step closer to being able to power an iPod or MP3 player by simply plugging it into your jeans or T-shirt.

The new application to fabrics is reported in the journal Nano Letters


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