The latest trend could be dressing in clothes that power devices

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have presented an innovative development that allows the creation of textile fibers that are not only breathable, elastic and washable like conventional fabrics, but they also have the ability to collect and store electrical energy. This advancement promises to revolutionize the way we interact with technology in our daily lives.

Advances in textiles

Fiber-based energy sources, such as submillimeter batteries and photovoltaic wires, are ushering in an era of smart and electronic textiles. Instead of relying on bulky external batteries, we could soon be wearing clothing that, thanks to these fibers, powers high-performance portable devices.

Challenges and future prospects

Despite their promising future, electronic fibers face several challenges, especially related to their manufacturing and design. Konstantinos Gerasopoulos, deputy director of the physics, electronic materials and devices program at APL (Applied Physics Laboratory, the acronym in English) and principal investigator of the project, underlines the need to develop smaller, reusable, durable and extensible energy sources. The traditional design of fiber batteries has limited their scalability and performance due to the inactivity of much of the electrode surface, resulting in inferior performance.

A new manufacturing method to overcome barriers

To try to address these challenges, the team of scientists has devised a method for producing fiber batteries described in a study published May 22 in Advanced Materials Technologies. Instead of using conventional textile equipment, they have customized battery equipment to achieve the necessary thickness. This approach includes custom configurations roll-roll, making the process mobile and suitable for large-scale production. All the equipment needed to make these batteries could be accommodated in a small room.

Rachel Altmaier, lead author of the article, highlights the importance of designing with compatibility to ensure that processes run continuously, making this development relevant to existing manufacturing lines.

Innovation in detail: 700 micrometer fiber batteries

The batteries developed consist of flat strips of anode and cathode electrodes, along with a polymer separator, which are pressed and laminated into a stacked design. This design offers Higher power and performance compared to standard fiber batteries. The stack is laser cut into a fiber-like strand, with a width of approximately 700 micrometers, equivalent to the thickness of five human hairs. This first use of laser cutting on a complete battery stack demonstrates the feasibility of the method to be able to customize the size of the battery without compromising its performance.

Jason Tiffany, APL engineer and co-author of the aforementioned article, highlights that the cutting system allows processing 100 meters of total fiber in just over five hourss, which could open up even more opportunities for textile applications.

Capture light to convert it into electricity

In a second study published the same day in Advanced Functional Materials, the APL team focused on manufacture scalable, high-performance fibers capable of capturing light and converting it into electricity. Inspired by conventional solar cell technology, the researchers cut and assembled small solar cells into thin, flexible circuit boards, sealed them in a protective polymer, and woven them with nylon to form a fiber-like strand.

Michael Jin, main author of this last article, explains that The biggest challenge of current solar cell technology is its rigidity. To overcome this obstacle, the team used a specific type of solar cell with positive and negative terminals on the back in a finger shape, allowing it to be assembled on a thin, flexible circuit board.