Have scientists cracked clothes to power your phone?

08 December 2015

Industrial design researchers at Brunel University London have solved challenges which prevent clothing being turned into power sources for personal tech.

Technology to produce supercapacitor thread capable of being made into cloth has been around for some time but until now scientists have been unable to make it provide sufficient voltage for most devices or devise a method to produce it economically outside the lab.

Now patented breakthroughs made by colleagues Professors David Harrison and John Fyson, Dr Yanmeng Xu, Dr Fulian Qiu and Ruirong Zhang of Brunel’s Department of Design mean thread capable of storing and supplying enough power for common devices and being manufactured at industrial scale are a reality.

Explained Prof Harrison, supercapacitors are already ubiquitous as back-up power in phones, PCs and tablets. They store energy without a chemical reaction so can be charged and discharged almost indefinitely. Yet in thread form they have never before been able to break the 1V barrier. 

What they have done is show they can produce a multi-layered structure with two sequential capacitive layers capable of producing up to 2V. Breaking the 1V threshold is important as in the real world they work on the voltage of common batteries – 1.5V.

They also wanted to address mass production issues so developed a process to semi-automatically coat stainless steel wire the thickness of a human hair with eight separate layers.

The work at Brunel is part of the EU-sponsored Powerweave programme which brings together researchers from seven countries to produce textiles which can both generate and store power. The Brunel paper can be found here.

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