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Next gen waterproof smart fabrics laser printed in minutes

Scientists from RMIT University in Melbourne Australia develop cost-efficient, scaleable method for rapidly fabricating textiles


The next generation of waterproof smart fabrics will be laser printed and made in minutes. That’s the future imagined by the researchers behind new e-textile technology – as scientists from RMIT University in Melbourne Australia have developed a cost-efficient and scaleable method for rapidly fabricating textiles that are embedded with energy storage devices.

Dr Litty Thekkakara, RMIT researcher and co-developer of new technology for rapidly fabricating textiles embedded with energy storage devices. Photo: RMIT University

In just three minutes, the method can produce a 10x10cm smart textile patch that’s waterproof, stretchable and readily integrated with energy harvesting technologies.

The technology enables graphene supercapacitors – powerful and long-lasting energy storage devices that are easily combined with solar or other sources of power – to be laser printed directly onto textiles.

Connected the supercapacitor with a solar cell

In a proof-of-concept, the researchers connected the supercapacitor with a solar cell, delivering an efficient, washable and self-powering smart fabric that overcomes the key drawbacks of existing e-textile energy storage technologies.

The growing smart fabrics industry has diverse applications in wearable devices for the consumer, health care and defence sectors – from monitoring vital signs of patients, to tracking the location and health status of soldiers in the field, and monitoring pilots or drivers for fatigue.

Dr Litty Thekkakara, a researcher in RMIT’s School of Science, said smart textiles with built-in sensing, wireless communication or health monitoring technology called for robust and reliable energy solutions.

Graphene-based supercapacitor is fully washable

The new technology can produce a 10x10cm smart textile patch in just three minutes. Photo: RMIT University.

“Current approaches to smart textile energy storage, like stitching batteries into garments or using e-fibres, can be cumbersome and heavy, and can also have capacity issues,” Thekkakara said. “These electronic components can also suffer short-circuits and mechanical failure when they come into contact with sweat or with moisture from the environment. Our graphene-based supercapacitor is not only fully washable, it can store the energy needed to power an intelligent garment – and it can be made in minutes at large scale.”

“By solving the energy storage-related challenges of e-textiles, we hope to power the next generation of wearable technology and intelligent clothing,” Thekkakara adds.

The research analyzed the performance of the proof-of-concept smart textile across a range of mechanical, temperature and washability tests and found it remained stable and efficient.

Renewable energies for e-textiles

RMIT Honorary Professor and Distinguished Professor at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, Min Gu, said the technology could enable real-time storage of renewable energies for e-textiles.

“It also opens the possibility for faster roll-to-roll fabrication, with the use of advanced laser printing based on multifocal fabrication and machine learning techniques,” Gu says.

The researchers have applied for a patent for the new technology, which was developed with support from RMIT Seed Fund and Design Hub project grants.