Photos by Scott Liddell
Adios wall warts, hello wearable power supplies. University of Texas at Dallas scientists are spinning yarn out of powder-infused carbon nanotubes in the hopes of creating textiles that can power the latest iFad. The nanotubes give superconducting particles, such as boron and magnesium powder, a more manageable form without binders or lasers. Their goal: To weave this energy-transmitting yarn into lightweight batteries you can wear.
GETTING A CHARGE
Powdered materials like boron and magnesium play a vital role in battery electrodes, superconducting wires, and even catalysts in fuel cells, but they are difficult to work with without complicated processes to bind their shape. By “growing” a web of nanotubes and then spraying it with the powder, any finely ground material can be turned into a “sewable, knittable, knotable, braidable yarn,” says Ray Baughman, director of the university’s Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute. The powder, which can account for 95 to 99 percent of the yarn’s weight, is trapped inside the twists of the nanotube web. “When you wash it, almost all the powder is retained,” he adds.
No need to search for a power outlet—charging your device could be as simple as plugging it into your T-shirt.
The researchers at the University of Texas aren’t the only ones working on conductive textiles. Their Rice University colleagues are making carbon-nanotube fibers that are very dense and conductive. These fibers may someday be used in low-loss electrical-transmission cables or in super-strong structural materials. Another lab at Stanford University is developing textile-based energy-storage devices. Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, believes that wearable batteries could one day power our gadgets.
The concept of wearable batteries that look like regular clothing could be a major game-changer. Designers worldwide will be clamoring to incorporate energy-storing textiles into their collections. No need to search for a power outlet—charging your device could be as simple as plugging it into your T-shirt.