By Lainie Lamicella
The future of wearable technology is transparent, thanks to an international team of researchers who have created the world’s first electronic textile, using graphene, a thin layer of pure carbon.
Researchers, from the Center for Graphene Science at the University of Exeter in Exeter, England, the Institute for Systems Engineering and Computers, Microsystems and Nanotechnology (INESC-MN) in Lisbon, Portugal, the Universities of Lisbon and Aveiro in Portugal and the Belgian Textile Research Center (CanTexBel), have found a way to embed transparent, flexible graphene electrodes into fabric commonly used in the textile industry.
This groundbreaking discovery could revolutionize the creation of wearable technologies and could help make clothing that contains computers, smart phones or other devices, that are lightweight, durable and transportable.
“This is a pivotal point in the future of wearable electronic devices. The potential has been there for a number of years, and transparent and flexible electrodes are already widely used in plastics and glass, for example,” said professor Craciun, co-author of the research. “But this is the first example of a textile electrode being truly embedded in a yarn. The possibilities for its use are endless, including textile GPS systems, to biomedical monitoring, personal security or even communication tools for those who are sensory impaired. The only limits are really within our own imagination.”
The substance was created using a growth method called chemical vapor deposition (CVD) onto copper foil, using a nanoCVD system. The team created a technique to transfer graphene from the copper foils to a polypropylene fiber that is commonly used in the textile industry.
Graphene is the thinnest substance capable of conducting electricity, measuring just one atom thick. It is extremely flexible and one of the strongest known materials. In recent years, scientists and engineers have been trying to quickly adapt the substance for use in wearable technologies.
This new research found that monolayer graphene has excellent electrical, mechanical and optical properties,making it an appealing option as a transparent electrode for use in wearable technologies.
“The concept of wearable technology is emerging, but so far having fully textile-embedded transparent and flexible technology is currently non-existing,” said Dr. Helena Alves, who led the research team from INESC-MN and the University of Aveiro. “Therefore, the development of processes and engineering for the integration of graphene in textiles would give rise to a new universe of commercial applications.”
In 2012 professor Craciun and professor Russo of the University of Exeter’s Center for Graphene Science, developed GraphExeter or sandwiched molecules of ferric chloride between two graphene layers. This creation is the best-known transparent material with the ability to conduct electricity.